A Sweeping Statement

Times Staff Writer


For a moment, just one, after Mario Ancic had played a heated point of harder and harder-hit forehands, he hit one too good. It flew past Roger Federer, who barely dents the grass on Wimbledon’s Centre Court as he runs on his toes. Ancic had broken Federer’s serve. And then held his own at love, four straight points that caused Ancic to pump his fist and shout.

Hah, Federer must have thought to himself. Does this young man from Croatia think he can beat me? So here’s what Federer did.

He held his own serve at love. By placing balls in the deepest corners of the service box, where Ancic needed a magnifying glass to see the spot. By drawing Ancic to the net, then zinging a backhand past his head. By hitting shots others can’t dream about and making them seem simple as 1 + 1 + 1.


The result Wednesday was three -- another three-set, straight-set quarterfinal win for Federer, the top-seeded and the best player in the world. In a match interrupted twice by rain, Federer first befuddled then depressed Ancic, who is seeded seventh, with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win.

So thoroughly elegant and engaging was Federer’s tennis that it was hard to go watch the more mundane matches.

Luckily for Jonas Bjorkman he was playing while Federer was so thoroughly producing awe in fans and Ancic. Bjorkman, who beat Martina Hingis’ new boyfriend Radek Stepanek, earned a semifinal meeting with Federer with his 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4 win. And, at 34, Bjorkman became the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since Jimmy Connors (also 34) in 1987.

Bjorkman responded to the enthusiastic Court One crowd by hugging himself hard four times, imitating how he felt the fans had embraced him. As soon as Bjorkman left, those cheers turned quickly to boos. The patient patrons had just been informed the quarterfinal between No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 22 Jarkko Nieminen was postponed until Thursday because darkness was closing in.


Federer was so efficient, winning over the seventh-seeded Ancic in 1 hour 47 minutes, that there was plenty of time for sixth-seeded Lleyton Hewitt and Australian Open finalist and No. 18-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus to play. And it was Baghdatis winning with style, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-2. His flashy forehands and pumping fists brought the crowd to its feet as well.

Federer is trying to become only the second man in the Open era of tennis and the first since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to get through Wimbledon without the loss of a set. Federer finished off his victory with an ace and a wink at his coach, Tony Roche. Ancic, who is the last man to beat Federer here -- four years ago, applauded his opponent once during a game, after Federer’s lob had touched the baseline just out of Ancic’s reach. And he applauded Federer at the end.

The Centre Court fans didn’t immediately leave when Federer was gone. They stood in awe and talked to each other about what they had just witnessed.

“I did exactly what I have to,” Ancic said, “then I was getting passed or I was getting some winners from him from nowhere.”


Federer didn’t sound immodest when he said he surprised himself with shots.

“When you get surprised, I get surprised,” he said. “I’ve been serving excellent. I’ve been returning good and, especially, my passing shots have been incredible.”

Bjorkman, playing in his 51st Grand Slam singles tournament, has made it to the semifinals only once, at the 1997 U.S. Open where he lost to Greg Rusedski.

“I didn’t think this was going to happen at this stage of my career,” said Bjorkman, who has missed only one major tournament since the 1993 U.S. Open -- the 2003 Australian Open when his son, Max, was born.


Two of Wednesday’s losers aren’t optimistic about Bjorkman going any further.

“I think Roger Federer’s going to win it, the tournament,” Hewitt said. “I think Jonas is going to struggle to find any answers.”

Ancic said, “I’d be very, very surprised” to see Federer lose.

Connors said he’d be “amazed” to see Federer challenged and even golfer Fred Couples, who watched Federer at Centre Court, said the top-seeded player resembled Tiger Woods in his flawless domination of a top opponent.


Oh, and Federer’s pick? “I guess,” he said, “if I keep this sort of performance I don’t see myself losing.”

No bragging. Only the truth.


Women’s semifinals


Today at Wimbledon:

No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, France, vs. No. 4 Maria Sharapova, Russia

Head to head: Mauresmo leads, 2-0.

* No. 2 Kim Clijsters, Belgium, vs. No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium


Head to head: Clijsters leads, 10-9.

Source: Associated Press