Karlovic's power is futile against Federer

Giant Croat's limitations are exposed as world No 2 coolly continues progress

To those who had contested – or observed, rather – 79 unbroken service games from Ivo Karlovic on his way into the last eight, it may or may not have been tennis. In the end, however, you found yourself admitting a pang of sympathy for the big man yesterday when he encountered one of the all-time tennis thoroughbreds, and was duly exposed as a one-trick pony.

Roger Federer, the seraph of the sward, ended the Croatian ogre's immaculate service run at this tournament as early as the fourth game. Afterwards, Karlovic attributed the immediacy of this breakthrough not only to Federer's "unbelievable" returns, but also to the dazzle of the sun, which he redressed with a natty pair of shades. Somehow, after losing 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 in just 103 minutes, it seemed all too fitting. Here, plainly, Icarus was flying too close to the sun.

At 6ft 10in, of course, the tallest player in ATP history takes pretty literal liberties with the ozone layer. If you want to lob Karlovic, you first need to get clearance from air traffic control. But the reality was that even Federer would seldom prolong their exchanges sufficiently to resort to such extremes.

Everyone in Centre Court knew what they were in for, their fans twitching like butterflies in the bleaching heat. Points would be nasty, brutish and short. In seeing off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round, Karlovic had detonated no fewer than 46 aces. On the other hand, Karlovic's game is otherwise so chronically lacking that his only conceivable strategy against Federer was presumably to hang in there for three tiebreaks.

Should we have felt some unease, then, about this confusion between different altitudes? Should a Grand Slam quarter-final – Karlovic's first, at the age of 30 – ever be reduced to such a freak show? Federer himself furnished the best of answers, both on and off the court. First, he proved that what divides a champion from the rest is a wholesome equilibrium of talents. His own serve, for instance, is not too shabby. Indeed, it yielded just three points through the first set. And above all there was the mental resilience so conspicuously lacking in Tsonga, who lost faith in his own, very considerable talents. Federer did not betray the faintest exasperation as he strolled along the baseline after another 138mph ace. His time would come.

Then, after the match, Federer showed dignity and respect when invited to disparage his opponent's antediluvian game. "Look, everybody plays different, you know?" he said. "I enjoy playing Ivo. It's not fair to call him boring. He's got a phenomenal serve. The way he backs it up with his volleys, it's quite something. I think it's exciting, actually, to go see him play. I thought it was an excellent match."

But while Federer had indeed been obliged to prise open his opportunities, in doing so he amply disclosed the abyss dividing the two men. On one glide, he muffled a drop shot with a delicacy so beyond his opponent's comprehension that he was walking back even as Karlovic pounded clumsily towards the ball.

As in the first set, Federer settled the second with a sequence of stabbed, instinctive returns, this time as Karlovic served at 5-6. And while Karlovic had the effrontery to force a deuce – the only one of the match – in the third set, Federer peremptorily dismissed the crisis. Both players then made perfunctory haste towards the tiebreak, but that was only ever going to go one way. Karlovic, to his credit, did not miss a first serve, but a whipped backhand on to the baseline secured Federer four match points.

Karlovic had mustered just three of his 23 aces in the first set, and missed several rudimentary volleys. Intimidation means different things to different people. Mild as he is, away from the service line, Karlovic confessed his awe afterwards. "Maybe the best player ever," he said. "But on grass he's by far the best, I think."

Federer now meets Tommy Haas, who recently took the first two sets off him at Roland Garros. How had he got himself out of that pickle? "Belief, I guess," Federer said. "I was playing well, but he was ahead. It was maybe hard to accept. But I stayed calm."

He duly extends his record sequence of Grand Slam semi-finals to 21. "Where I'm definitely good is like when it really matters, and you get maybe only a couple of chances a match," he said. "I know I will believe. The opponent knows it, too."

A man for all seasons, surfaces, situations. The very antithesis, that is to say, of his opponent yesterday. And for showing us the difference, we can be grateful to both.

Numbers game: Wham-bam tennis

13 Games were played before a rally of 15 shots or more was achieved.

27 games were played before Federer was taken to deuce in a service game.

2 Breaks were achieved in the entire match, both on Karlovic's serve.

94 per cent was the ratio of points won by Federer on his first serve.

23 aces were served by Karlovic throughout the match.

129 MPH was the average speed of Karlovic's first-serve.

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
and  

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

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected