Federer at top of game

His superb play ousts Ancic

Bjorkman is oldest semifinalist since Connors

Wimbledon

July 06, 2006|By DIANE PUCIN | DIANE PUCIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England -- Hah.

For a moment, just one, after Mario Ancic had played a heated point of harder and harder-hit forehands, he hit one too good. It flew past Roger Federer, who barely dents the grass on Wimbledon's Centre Court as he runs on his toes. Ancic had broken Federer's serve. And then held his own at love, four straight points that caused Ancic to pump his fist and shout.

Hah, Federer thought to himself. Does this young man from Croatia think he can beat me? So here's what Federer did.

He held his own serve at love. By placing balls in the deepest corners of the service box, where Ancic needed a magnifying glass to see the spot. By drawing Ancic to the net, then zinging a backhand past his head. By hitting shots others can't dream about and making them seem as simple as 1 + 1 + 1.

The result yesterday was another straight-set quarterfinal win for Federer, the top seed and the best player in the world. In a match interrupted twice by rain, Federer first befuddled then depressed Ancic, who is seeded seventh, with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win.

So thoroughly elegant and engaging was Federer's tennis that it was hard to go watch the more mundane matches.

Luckily for Jonas Bjorkman he was playing while Federer was so thoroughly producing awe in tennis fans and Ancic. Bjorkman, who beat Martina Hingis' new boyfriend, Radek Stepanek, earned a semifinal meeting with Federer with his 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4 win. And, at 34, Bjorkman became the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since Jimmy Connors (also 34) in 1987.

Bjorkman responded to the enthusiastic Court One crowd by hugging himself hard four times, imitating how he felt the fans had embraced him. As soon as Bjorkman left, those cheers turned quickly to boos. The patient patrons had just been informed that the quarterfinal between No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 22 Jarkko Nieminen was postponed until today because darkness was closing in.

Federer was so efficient, winning over the seventh-seeded Ancic in 1 hour, 47 minutes, that there was plenty of time for sixth-seeded Lleyton Hewitt and Australian Open finalist and No. 18 seed Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus to play. And it was Baghdatis winning with style, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-2. His flashy forehands and pumping fists brought the crowd to its feet as well.

Federer is trying to become only the second man in the Open era of tennis and the first since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to scamper through Wimbledon without the loss of a set. Federer finished off his victory with an ace and a wink at his coach Tony Roche. Ancic, who is the last man to beat Federer here - four years ago - applauded his opponent once during a game, after Federer's lob had touched the baseline just out of Ancic's reach. And he applauded Federer at the end.

The Centre Court fans didn't immediately leave when Federer was gone. They stood in awe and talked to one another about what they had just witnessed.

"I did exactly what I have to," Ancic said, "then I was getting passed or I was getting some winners from him from nowhere."

Federer was able to not sound immodest when he said he surprised himself with shots.

"When you get surprised, I get surprised," he said. "I've been serving excellent. I've been returning good and, especially, my passing shots have been incredible."

Bjorkman, who is playing in his 51st Grand Slam singles tournament, has only made it as far as the semifinals once, at the 1997 U.S. Open, where he lost to Greg Rusedski.

Diane Pucin writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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