Federer primed to tackle force of nature after breaking Safin

If it was only about the clean, enduring beauty of a wonderfully restored talent we could say now that Roger Federer is, once again, beyond challenge, even the one that faces him again tomorrow from the force of nature named Rafael Nadal.

Such, certainly, was the beguiling thought when Marat Safin, the 28-year-old Muscovite hell-raiser who won two Grand Slam titles when his mind was as concentrated on tennis as it ever would be, finally smashed his racket into the ground.

The gesture of despair came as Federer moved into the last strides of a semi-final victory so clinical, so complete the score of 6-3, 7-6, 6-4, compiled in one hour, 42 minutes, seemed not so much a record of events as a charitable understatement. It seemed mostly to resemble the kind of expression which comes to the face of a beaten fighter, one with title aspirations of his own, the moment he grasps that really the other man is operating on ground that is too high, too unattainable.

But then under the weight of the presence of the man-boy from Barcelona, the one who whipped him to the point of humiliation on his own terrain of red clay in Paris last month while winning his fourth straight French Open, it is of course about so much more than the way Federer was able to drain the hope and the creativity out of one of the few players – maybe the only one – with the proven range of touch and nerve that made him capable of imagining a way to beat either Federer or Nadal without embarrassing himself.

It is to do with repelling a physical force which some old tennis men are agreeing is possibly quite unprecedented in the history of their game.

It is about seizing one risk-laden chance and doing it quite flawlessly, because if you don't do that you suffer the fate which consumed Safin just when he thought he had fought his way into a match Federer, defending the title for a fifth time, had not so much dominated as annexed.

"When you have a chance against Federer you have to go for it, but the trouble is that under the pressure he creates everyone makes mistakes – except Nadal," said Safin.

"That is the big difference between Federer and the rest of the players – and the rest of the players and Nadal. Who will win on Sunday? Oh, it's such a tough one – I don't know that there's ever been a tougher one.

"The way Nadal is playing right now is just amazing and as the grass becomes slower, it also gives an advantage to him. It is a match you have to watch because you cannot really know how it is going to finish."

It seems that in the locker room as well as the galleries there is indeed a growing sense that this is Rafael Nadal's time, that however beautiful the contours and the nuances of the Federer game it is, 12 months after being put under such strain at the Centre Court, about to crumble under the pressure of a superior force.

Yet if Nadal pushed Federer to his limits in last year's final, and administered that terrible beating at Roland Garros, there was nothing cowed about the reigning champion as he moved, often quite exquisitely, towards the moment tomorrow afternoon when he again parts the ropes and enters the ring against Nadal.

The first set, completed in 25 minutes, was most remarkable in that Safin's handlers, who tend to change with each passing mood – one day he wants to play tennis for ever, the next he plans to retire his talent in favour of the pursuit of life its own self – decided not to throw in the towel. That must have been the temptation when Federer picked out his shots so easily he might have been sauntering into a shooting gallery.

He broke Safin at the first opportunity so effortlessly you might have thought the threat from a younger and more menacing gun was the figment of some disordered imagining. He made forehands that brought delayed applause, so startling and audacious were they in their conception and their execution. At one point in the third set, when the brief disturbance of the tie-break had been quelled, he casually flipped his racket through his legs for a very passable return.

"I was feeling happy and very relaxed," said Federer. "Really my return to another final has been great. I was winning my service games pretty comfortably except for one stage in the second set. I was feeling very good out on the court and I was able to break him in the first game of the match and the last. I think in between I was just really consistent. I didn't really give him too many chances, so it was a perfect game for me."

Yet the idea that Federer was simply gliding back to his old point of strength, that somehow he was re-exerting an almost mystical hold over the game he dominated for so long as he moved to within two of Pete Sampras's record mark of 14 Grand Slam titles was almost certainly an illusion entertained least seriously in the mind of the champion himself.

"There is no doubt there is a big question mark about this match," he said. "Rafa played so well in last year's final and it was disappointing to lose like that to him in Paris. He's a threat for any player he faces, and as for me he's got the winning record. Still, I think it will be an interesting match."

He says it with slightly narrowed eyes and a small smile, the one he used when he dismissed the concept of pre-final superstitions. "No, I'm not [Goran] Ivanisevic," he said. "Give me a different dish each day, a different restaurant, even a different bed. I have no problem."

Except the one that comes on to Centre Court with Rafael Nadal. Yet maybe, this one, too, will be negotiable. At the least, the forlorn, discarded racket of Marat Safin was saying it might just be so.

Threat of rain prompts plans for play on Monday

Unpromising weather forecasts have prompted All England Club officials to prepare contingency plans for extending the Championships to a third Monday for what would be the first time since 2001.

Suggestions that rain is 60 per cent likely today and tomorrow mean that those with tickets for matches on the two show courts should revise the terms of compensation in the event of the weather preventing play. A spokesman said that full refunds would be available if there was less than an hour's play, and half refunds in the event of less than two hours. He said those with tickets for Sunday would not have any advantage in seeking tickets for Monday.

"We would be expecting people to queue in the normal fashion, with gates opening at 10.30am," he said.

"In the past we have shut Church Road in order to carry out security searching without too much of a crush. It is likely we would be making between 10,000 and 11,000 tickets available on the day, with 600 available via the internet."

The capacity of Centre Court is 15,000 and that of Court One is 11,500.

Mike Rowbottom

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms