LONDON (Reuters) - Roger Federer, written off by some as a waning force, soared back into orbit to beat defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3 on Friday and reach a record eighth Wimbledon final.
If it were not for the giant mechanical roof and the floodlit glow over Centre Court, Federer’s victory could have been a flashback to 2007 when he was at the peak of his powers and beat Rafa Nadal to win his fifth title.
Djokovic was the top seed and had crushed the Swiss at the same stage of the French Open just four weeks ago.
This was a different Federer, however, to the one who capitulated in straight sets in Paris. He had verve and aggression and was razor sharp.
The Swiss third seed served with pinpoint accuracy and punished Djokovic’s somewhat sluggish manner with rasping winners off both flanks that smashed holes in the Serb’s solid concrete defenses.
For a man who has been told for so long that he can no longer compete with the behemoths that had won the last nine slams and occupied the top two spots in the rankings, there was no exuberant celebration when Djokovic netted a return to end the match.
This was the Federer who expects to reach this stage of his favorite slam, and reminiscent of the man who reached 18 out of 19 grand slam finals between 2005 and 2010.
He did not have a point to prove, he said, as he dissected his performance in his post-match news conference.
In fact, it was “big news” when he did not make the final in 2010, and again 12 months later. There was a sense that Federer felt he was now back where he belonged or at least where he fully deserved to be with the quality of tennis he has been playing recently.
“I didn’t break down crying and fall to my knees and think the tournament is over and I achieved everything I ever wanted,” he said with more than a touch of sarcasm.
It was almost unfeasible to imagine that a match between two men with 21 slams between them could be a sideshow on any occasion, but with home hope Andy Murray preparing for his own semi-final showdown, Federer and Djokovic were the warm-up act.
Centre Court was not even full until well into the second set, but there was still an excited murmur of anticipation echoing round the hushed arena as Federer strode out to open the serving.
It was not until the Swiss fired a rasping crosscourt backhand in the fourth game that Wimbledon’s sometimes muted fans cast off their shackles and an explosion of noise reverberated around the stadium.
Federer struck the first blow, breaking in the sixth game after Djokovic slipped at 30-30 to bring up breakpoint and then netted a backhand.
The Swiss gobbled up the opportunity and closed it out after 24 minutes with a forehand down the line.
That had the effect of sparking the somber Serb into life as he broke in the second game of the second set and the Federer forehand disintegrated with three crucial errors.
Fans had to wait until the third set, however, for the match to spring into life.
Serving at 4-5 Djokovic blazed a smash long at 15-30 to give Federer two set points. Djokovic saved the first with a forehand but Federer seized his chance, winning a sensational 20-stroke rally with a smash to move within a set of the final.
Djokovic then, by his own admission, dropped his level, and quickly found himself a break down and staring defeat in the face.
“I played really a couple of sloppy games, very slow, with no pace, very low percentage of first serves,” he said.
“When you don’t have free points from the first serve, it’s very difficult to get in the rhythm and the control of the match when you have an opponent such as Federer.”
The Swiss was not about to pass up the opportunity and served it out with Djokovic netting a forehand to bring a close to two hours and 19 minutes of high-intensity tennis.
It was Federer’s first Wimbledon semi-final since 2009, when he won his sixth title by beating Andy Roddick in five sets.
Should he win on Sunday he would equal Pete Sampras’s record of seven Wimbledon titles and will return to the pinnacle of the rankings for the first time in two years.
It would also mean he matches the American’s record of 286 weeks spent as world number one.
Such considerations, however, will be secondary to winning the final against Murray or Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
”I’d love to play Murray,“ Federer said. ”I always say in whatever country I am I like to play the local hero, I kind of call them, and Andy is exactly that here at Wimbledon.
“So I hope the match comes along, even though I like Jo very much. Here it would be very special playing against him.”
Editing by Ed Osmond