Mikhail Youzhny yields to effortless majesty of Swiss maestro Roger Federer
Quarter-final day on Centre Court had an exhibition feel about it even before Roger Federer toyed with the fortunes of the overmatched Mikhail Youzhny. The audience shouted and screamed their frenzied approval as the principal agents in the parade entered the arena: Prince William and Kate at Wimbledon, trumping the appearance of pops, Prince Charles, a week ago.
The England football coach, Roy Hodgson, sitting in the row behind, was out of his seat like a shot, bowing as he reached for William's hand. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, tennis royalty by any measure, followed suit. Michael Parkinson could not quite reach, and settled instead for a lengthy exchange with Hodgson, a football contemporary, probably about the virtues of raw-boned midfielders like Barnsley's sepia legend Skinner Normanton, who would of course, claims Parky, walk into this England side.
All of this was more interesting than the tennis. Youzhny, who brought to the piece the memory of 13 pastings in as many meetings against Federer, deferred once again to the regal presence across the net. The surrender of his opening service game after leading 40-0 told the story of the match. This was always going to be a day of heaving and scurrying, of clocking up miles as Federer sent him this way and that en route to his 32nd Grand Slam semi-final.
Youzhny is not a bad player. He is just not Federer. At 1-4, 15-30 in the opening set the sight of yet another ball smashing into the net triggered an anguished howl from Youzhny. Maybe it was an appeal for rain. In that he got his wish, drizzle forcing the players immediately off the court. Twenty minutes later they were back and the point with which Federer sealed the game was vintage.
Shut your eyes, think of Federer and what do you see? A flashing, cross-court forehand perchance? That was the shot that speared Youzhny to break him a second time. The Russian was permitted the odd moment in the sun, fashioning a neat forehand dink over the net to claim a point. Youzhny raised both hands in ironic salute. The crowd clapped their applause. It was of no consequence. Federer simply went back to his mark and served out the set. Sideshow over.
Sets two and three went the same way. The scoreline never lies. If 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 looks like an emasculation, it is because it was. Federer is too polite to claim it was easy. He expressed it another way. "I thought I played great," he said. "My game sits up well against his. It was his first time on Centre Court, and obviously tough. He fought hard but that was not enough for him today."
And so to the prescribed meeting with Novak Djokovic, the No 1 seed and defending champion. "It's our first match on grass. Another good performance will be needed. He seems a complete and happy player right now. He's the champion and world No 1. But I'm fresh and ready to go."
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