Federer wins battle of the broken bodies

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The Independent Online

The highest seed left in the men's singles moved silently - apart from the odd grunt - into the first Grand Slam semi-final of his career. That was partly because Roger Federer easily beat his struggling opponent in straight sets - 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 - but also because, disappointingly consigned to Court No 2 by Wednesday's rain, he was playing to a half-empty gallery out in the favourite's graveyard. At one point just six people sat in the five rows behind a rather disconsolate looking Sjeng Schalken.

At the end it was Federer, seeded four, who threw the towel in - hurling it, along with other accessories, into the grateful crowd. But Schalken had long before done the same, metaphorically at least. Both players came into this match suffering from injuries and it was only a matter of time before the trainer was called.

It was Schalken who cracked in the contest of the crocks, receiving painkillers for his injured foot, having already had an injection, as the second set slipped away. Federer's damaged back held up better and he now goes forward into the most attractive tie of the Championships - against favourite, No 5 seed, and fellow 21-year-old Andy Roddick. Both the tyros have dropped just one set on their way to the last four.

The Swiss player - having won tournaments on four different surfaces this year - showed his versatility from the start on a court which, at times, revealed an alarmingly high bounce. However, he said the frailties his opponent had also made it tricky. "I definitely didn't play super today, because of all this talk around my injury, his injury."

Federer dropped one point on his serve in the first set - and that was a double fault on the first point of the match - and simply had too many shots in his armoury. A low skimming backhand with topspin caused particular alarm for Schalken, seeded eight here, whose gait appeared more stiff-backed than ever as he struggled to manoeuvre his body. He simply could not manage to push himself forward.

"I was one step slower and against the quality of Roger I was no match for him," said Schalken, who had considered withdrawing from the match. The 6ft 3in Dutchman was easily broken in the third game, in which he committed three unforced errors, and never troubled Federer who served and volleyed to great effect and wrapped up the set in 24 minutes.

The first six games of the second set went to serve, although Schalken, also a quarter-finalist last year, missed an opportunity to break at 2-1 up when he was aced. It was one of 13 that Federer served. At 3-3, Schalken over-hit a forehand to go to deuce on his serve and then, under minimal pressure, hit another backhand wildly over the baseline. It was then that the trainer was called.

Federer controlled the remainder of the set but, surprisingly, was then broken as Schalken raced into a 3-0 lead in the third. Was there to be another epic comeback by the man who took part in the longest final set - before finally losing out to Mark Philippoussis - in Wimbledon history four years ago?

Not this time. Even as he built his lead, Schalken was struggling to hold onto his serve, saving four break points, and at a 4-1 up he collapsed as Federer struck back twice, again profiting from wild forehands after putting his opponent under pressure.

It was the fourth time in six meetings that Federer has beaten him in straight sets. In doing so, Federer has now won 10 consecutive matches on grass, having triumphed at Halle earlier this year. Can he win here? "He is the best player left and I hope he does,"said Schalken.