Happy 4th, y’all! Just a quick check-in as we enter the semifinals end of the tournament. Can you believe we’re already here?
On the ladies’ side, we have an interesting mix in the semis. While some of names in the final four are a bit unexpected, no one is seeded below #8. They all belong here, though some may still feel the need to prove it. We have Kerber (8) vs. Radwanska (3), with Radwanska playing in a Major semi for the first time in her career. (Kerber made the US Open semis in 2011, beating Radwanska in the second round.) I confess I haven’t watched Radwanska play much this fortnight, though I did get my fill of Kerber in her quarterfinal vs. Lisicki – a great match won by a remarkably determined player. I understand Radwanska’s allure as a player, and I know she is popular among ladies’ tennis cognoscenti for her smooth, savvy game, but I think it’s telling that she’s No. 3 in the world and has never made it to a Major semi before tomorrow. Kerber has the pressure off by being the lower ranked player, yet the experience of being in this situation before. I think it will be an interesting match and despite the result, we will have yet another first-time Major finalist at the end of it.
Serena vs. Azarenka feels like the final. Serena’s been spotty this tournament and has struggled through some tough three set matches, but I think that’s been good for her. Not only do those wins prove her mettle, they build her confidence and kindle her famous fighting spirit. The only issue will be if she’s tired or flat from all the tennis she’s played, including double-doubles duty today with Venus: first scraping out a tough three-set win in the 2nd round vs. Petrova/Kirilenko and then returning to court to win a third rounder vs. Mattek-Sands/Mirza (in two sets, at least.) That’s a lot of competitive tennis the day before a Wimbledon semi. Azarenka, on the other hand, has only played singles and has won all of her matches in straight sets – including a couple bagel sets. Azarenka is in great position to beat Serena Williams for the first time since 2009 and improve her 2-6 head-to-head against the American. However, more than any other stadium, Centre Court belongs to Serena Williams, and playing in the doubles with her sister is probably more inspiration than anything else. Again, we have a great semi in store.
The men played their quarterfinals today, with Nole and Roger winning fairly easily over Mayer and Youzhny and Murray and Tsonga facing predictably more difficult paths to victory over Ferrer and Kohlschreiber.
Roger moved like a dream during his match, including a brilliant bit of scrambling in the first set. I don’t know if it was all the treatment or the bevy of royalty (both tennis and the other kind) in the royal box, but Roger seemed to be inspired today. His coach, Paul Annacone, could even make light of his bad back with the NYTimes: “It was just kind of a one-off, something happened and Roger’s back just locked up the other day,” Annacone said. “But today, shoot, whatever he had, I hope he has it again on Friday.”
Youzhny helped raise the Federer camp’s spirits with some lackluster tennis, ensuring Roger the kind of easy, breezy 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory that he needed before taking on the likes of Novak Djokovic. This semifinal is especially juicy because the two players – despite it being their 27th meeting – have never met on grass. To up the ante, the No. 1 ranking is also on the line should Roger end up winning the tournament.
Roger sounded happy and confident in his press conference, claiming to be “excited” about the upcoming challenge:
Q. Athletes focus on one match at a time. We’re now getting down to the business end, two matches to go. What would it feel like to win here?
ROGER FEDERER: Obviously it’s a big deal. No denying. Obviously it feels great being back in the semis, like I mentioned. Haven’t been here in the last couple years. So this is nice to be back to a place where I’ve been so many times before.
Usually once I get to the semis, I’m playing some of my best tennis usually for the last couple rounds. Obviously I’m aware that Novak is the defending champion and the world No. 1. That’s not going to make it easy to come through.
That’s the focus now instead of taking it two steps at a time where I know I’m holding the trophy. I know it’s possible. I know I’m playing really well. I am aware things are going to get complicated in the next match. I better prepare well, because it’s going to be a tough match.
Q. You feel your game is trending in the right direction?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes. I’ve been playing well for a year now. I’ve been playing well for many months. I’m happy that going ahead into the semis I’m not tired, I’m not injured, I’m not anything. I’m fresh and ready to go. That’s how I want to feel before a semis.
It’s been a better tournament than in Paris for me anyway. In Paris I struggled all the way through, which I think here I did have some great matches like the last one.
Q. Considering that Novak won here last year but you’ve won here so many times, does one have a mental edge over the other on Centre Court?
ROGER FEDERER: I’m not sure. Obviously it helps that he won the last couple against me. Again, it is our first grass court match. We don’t know quite what to expect. I feel it’s a bit of an even ground. You have to ask him. I feel good about the match. I’m excited.
Novak is feeling just as good after his 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 win over surprise quarter finalist Florian Mayer today. The defending champ claims to feel better than ever on the grass, a surface that took him a while to master. Interesting enough, he says he has “nothing to lose” playing Roger tomorrow. Perhaps he’s taking a little pressure off himself, knowing how much Roger has riding on this tournament.
Q. It’s your 27th meeting with Roger, but your first on grass, I believe.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It is, yes.
Q. Does that change anything?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, we never played on grass, so we’ll see how that is going to turn out.
But, you know, as I said, maybe he uses the grass court better because of that slice. You know, he has a really smart game for this surface.
But I improved playing on grass in last couple of years. I mean, I won the title here last year, get to another semifinal this year, so I’m feeling good about this surface, about myself on the court.
I really have nothing to lose. I’m going to try to win.
Q. You dreamt of Wimbledon your whole life. Last year you won. You’ve come back to defend. Talk about the difference between getting that first title and the effort to defend it this year.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, depends how you look at it, really. I’m not trying to defend my title here; I’m trying to fight for it as every other player who is in last four of the men’s side.
So my mindset is very positive. I obviously felt relief in a way that I won the tournament on the grass. It was actually the first tournament I ever won on a grass court, which before it wasn’t my most successful surface.
But now, as I said, I’m feeling great about myself playing on grass court.
This year I’ve been playing really well, constantly well, from the start of the tournament, and I hope to continue that way.
On the other side of the draw, we have a battle between Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Both are vying for their first appearance in a Wimbledon final, an exciting prospect for everyone involved. I can’t wait for this match, with the electric Tsonga always pumped up and loving the biggest stages in tennis and the not-so-mopey Murray, playing for himself, history, and a rapturous Centre Court crowd. The nice thing about this semifinal, at least from an objective standpoint, is that either player has a real chance of winning the entire tournament. Though the Roger/Nole half will provide the favorite in the final, neither guy is invincible vs. Tsonga or Murray.
What do you think?