LONDON // Nine minutes was all it took Roger Federer to accomplish something that nobody else had been able to achieve at these Wimbledon Championships - break the booming serve of the Croatian skyscraper Ivo Karlovic. Inside an hour of staccato Centre Court tennis, the Swiss had repeated that feat and a daunting threat to his challenge for a sixth men's singles title here had been disheartened and effectively removed. The brilliant Federer, who went on to secure a 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) victory which takes him into a semi-final clash with Germany's Tommy Haas, knew then as he strolled to the umpire's chair sitting on a two-set lead that he would not perish by the dreaded ordeal of losing three tie-breaks. On the other hand, Karlovic, so reliant on that sudden-death method of making progress, knew that he had to find a way to break the terrific Federer serve if he was going to make his first grand slam quarter-final appearance a triumphant one.
The 6ft 10in Croatian only once looked like making that vital break and was left to rue missing the easiest of forehand volleys in the fifth game of the third set, the only one in which Federer, who never had a break point against him in the 1hr 42min battle, had been taken to deuce. That appalling miss made the difference between revitalising Karlovic's fortunes and the Croat resigning himself to the inevitability of defeat because his opponent was in the kind of irresistible form that swept him to five successive titles before Rafael Nadaldethroned him last year. Karlovic had walked into the most famous arena in tennis labelled a "one-shot wonder" but that jibe did not bother him because it was a single weapon which he felt could embarrass second-seeded Federer and take him all the way to a shock title. In winning all 79 of his service games to overcome four previous opponents he had surrendered only four break points and sent down a total of 137 aces. His 81st service game of the tournament set the tone for his elimination. Federer had given himself a sighter of the fearsome delivery in the second game of the match and then clicked into top gear in the fourth. An amazing backhand return winner off a 130mph rocket took the Swiss to break point and an equally remarkable forehand return, this time of a ball which the speed gun tracked at 122mph, brought about the hugely significant early break. With Federer allowing Karlovic a paltry three points from his own serve in that opening set, that was sufficient to put the Swiss in the ascendancy and another blistering backhand return in the 11th game of the second set - the radar reported 126mph - proved decisive. It was as if Federer did not mind Karlovic taking matters to a tie-break in the third, so relaxed was the Swiss at that stage. Rather than prove to be the springboard for a Croatian comeback it turned into a Swiss stroll as Federer romped to a 6-2 lead, accepting the second of his four match points. Federer had been planning to meet world No 4 Novak Djokovic tomorrow in a repeat of their 2008 US Open semi-final which the former won on the way to his 13th grand slam title. The Swiss will now have to concentrate on dealing with the reinvigorated German Haas, who came so close to eliminating him in last month's French Open. Haas, now fully recovered from a career-threatening shoulder injury, secured a tremendous 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 6-3 Court One victory to supplement his gritty conquests of the Marin Cilic and Igor Andreev in the previous two rounds. The tie-break at the end of the second set proved pivotal. Haas was resigned to losing it and being pegged back to one set all when he trailed 3-6 but moments later he was celebrating the winning of five enormous points in a row which left Djokovic with a mountain to climb. Briefly he looked like scaling those heights as he captured the third set, but Haas, 31, the oldest of the eight quarter-finalists, remained determined to put the youngest to the sword. firstname.lastname@example.org