Underdog punished for lack of bite

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It would have been the upset of the century, but Roger Federer virtually squashed the very idea after only four games on Friday. The defending champion continued his faultless rampage through the draw, disposing of his semi-final opponent Jonas Bjorkman 6-2 6-0 6-2, as he would a hired hitting partner.

So typically masterful was the Swiss world number one that there was little Bjorkman could do. During the first two sets perhaps the Swede did not follow his serve to the net as much as he should have. His second serves also lacked depth and bite, something which Federer punished.

Even when the points were extended to baseline rallies, Federer appeared simply to toy with the Swede. With balletic grace he juggled him round the court at will, before setting up for the inevitable killer blow.

It was the sort of David versus Goliath scenario one would expect to watch on a straight-to-DVD Hollywood tennis movie: ageing pro struggles through the draw and ends up challenging the outright tournament favourite in the semi-finals.

Except in the Hollywood version, David always wins. In real life on Centre Court yesterday the underdog was barely permitted a growl, let alone a bite. From start to finish, in just one hour and 17 minutes, Bjorkman was outmanoeuvred, outplayed and outclassed. At one stage Federer won 11 games in a row, including the 6-0 set.

Afterwards he was asked if he had any sympathy at all for his opponent. “No, not in the semis. Sorry,” he said without hesitating.

Few would now expect Federer to falter in his fourth successive Wimbledon final tomorrow. Provided everything goes to plan, he hopes to join
Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras as the only men in the modern era to win four times consecutively.

The only regret he may have is that he has not been pushed hard enough en route. Leading up to this one-sided semi-final, the much older Bjorkman had been forced to play 22 sets in 15 hours.

Compare that with Federer’s 15 sets in just eight hours. The Swiss has lost only two of his service games in the entire tournament, for pity’s sake; only once, in a tie-break with Nicolas Mahut of France in the third round, has he even been close to losing a set.

While this of course means his legs will be much fresher than the other finalist’s, there may be one thing for him and his coach Tony Roche to worry about: a touch of rustiness when it comes to a closely fought match.

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