Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerRoger Federer (SUI)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: Roger Federer has a habit of being able to raise his game at the business end of a set, and that’s exactly what he did against John Isner in windy conditions on Centre Court as he advanced to the men’s singles semifinals at the Olympic Tennis Event for the first time in 12 years.
The first set was on serve until 4-4 with both players offering little in the way of breaking opportunities, but in the ninth game Federer made his move. Isner found himself at 15-40 and, despite scrambling to deuce with a pair of aces, he finally gifted his opponent the game by uncharacteristically blazing an easy forehand long on the third break point.
Federer, who won a record equalling seventh Wimbledon title on the very same court just a few weeks ago, didn’t need a second invitation and proceeded to hold serve and take the first set. There was one nervous moment, however, as Isner engineered a break-back point, only for a big serve from Federer to draw a netted return.
The second set continued to be dominated by big serving with neither player ever seriously threatening to break. The inevitable tiebreak ensued and, after exchanging mini breaks early on, it continued to go on serve with Federer taking a 6-5 lead, and with it bringing up a first match point.
Isner fired another enormous serve at Federer, which the Swiss managed to get a racket to and divert back towards the American’s end. Both players watched on helplessly as the ball struck the net cord and rolled agonisingly onto the American’s side... game, set and match!
"You just feel bad really, but relief because it's finally over, the whole big serving, not knowing what's going to happen next, so obviously it was a big relief," said Federer, describing what it felt to win the final point in that manner.
"I felt I hit the return actually well. I hit it perfect. I don't remember if I thought it was going to go over or actually straight in the net, but I had a good contact. I played well throughout, so maybe I just got really lucky today. I don't know how fortunate I am.
"Overall I felt I played a great match, and so did John. Conditions were tough with swirly winds. It was hard for both of us to maybe find some rhythm, but overall I think we tried our best, and it was obviously a nail-biter at the very end."
Federer advances to meet another big server, Juan Martin del Potro, in the semifinals. The Argentine overcame Japan’s Kei Nishikori 64 76(4) to reach the last four. The pair have met 14 times and Federer convincingly leads the series 12-2, including five wins out of five in 2012. However, one of del Potro’s victories famously came in the final at the US Open in 2009.
"I think this is the sixth time we're playing this season already," said Federer. "Just came off of a tough five-setter at the French. Yeah, we ran into each other very often now this year already. I'm not surprised he makes it to the semis here again. He's played a lot of tennis this year. Always had sort of a momentum going, good confidence.
"I think he took advantage of a draw here, and then was able to just come through convincingly. I have my hands full with Juan Martin. He's obviously beaten me in the biggest match we've played against each other, the finals of the US Open. I'm aware of that. He's a big player with a big serve. That makes it obviously tricky on a fast court like grass."
Federer has only reached the Olympic semifinals once before, and that was on his debut at Sydney 2000. He bowed out against Tommy Haas before missing out on the bronze medal by losing to Arnaud di Pasquale in the play-off. The 17-time Grand Slam champion famously won the doubles gold medal at Beijing 2008, and he’s made no secret of the fact that he would love to add the singles gold to his collection.
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