Bjorkman plays oldest swinger to outlast Stepanek

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The Independent Online

At the end of one of the most gruelling and memorable matches of his life, there was still energy enough in Jonas Bjorkman ­ at 34, the old man of the Wimbledon quarter-finalists ­ to dance a jig of delight before making his exit from Court One as a man with an important and wholly surprising appointment with the defending champion Roger Federer tomorrow.

The unseeded Swede has earned more than £6.5m in a career that has seen him make 13 consecutive appearances at SW19, but the bulk of that money has come from doubles, where he has won every Grand Slam title.

As far as singles matches are concerned, Bjorkman has reached only one Grand Slam semi-final before ­ at the 1997 US Open, when he was beaten by the eventual runner-up, Greg Rusedski. Yet, after a year in which his indifferent form has caused him to wonder whether his days as a singles player were over, he finds himself in the last four of what he describes as the greatest event of them all.

Bjorkman is not known as one of the game's most demonstrative characters, but after his dogged 7-6, 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 victory over the 14th seed Radek Stepanek, of the Czech Republic, which took four hours and three minutes, he could not contain his glee as he hugged his arms around himself and turned to each part of the court.

"It's the greatest atmosphere out there, and we were out there for a long, long time," he said. "Once I won I felt I wanted to hug everyone. I wanted to show everyone I really appreciated all the support. Let's celebrate. I wanted to stay out there for another 45 minutes if possible.

"It was very emotional because obviously I didn't think this was going to happen again at this stage of my career. It was just the best possible feeling I could have inside me. If you had asked two weeks ago, I would have been happy just to come through the first round. Now it's almost like a big shock. I'm trying to enjoy every moment out there because I know there aren't that many more Wimbledons in me." There was more than a touch of the Zinedine Zidanes about it.

If Bjorkman never has another, he can surely rest satisfied with what he has achieved this year. He was easily the oldest of the men's quarter-finalists, with his opponent, watched by his girlfriend Martina Hingis, the next most ancient at the grand old age of 27.

Accordingly one might expect the Swede to have been taking particular care of himself this fortnight, avoiding unnecessary excitement or exertion, getting quietly about on his walking frame.

Not so. While the other seven men still in with a shout of earning the men's singles title had taken the opportunity to rest on the previous day, Bjorkman was playing in the doubles.

He and his partner, Max Mirnyi, whom he defeated to earn yesterday's match, have now reached the quarter finals. The Swede has a commitment in the mixed doubles, too, where he and his American partner, Lisa Raymond, are in the third round. Perhaps it is just as well for Bjorkman that there is no such thing as a mixed singles, otherwise he would probably try to fit that in as well.

So now he faces Federer, the man he describes as "the best player in the world right now, probably going to be the best player ever". Surely, it was suggested, today's doubles match needed to go by the board? Apparently not. "I think Max and I try to make the best out of it now," he said.

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