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

Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own