x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Imperious Federer is on the brink

Roger Federer, majestic as ever, made it a record seven Wimbledon finals in a row yesterday by clinically disposing of German veteran Tommy Haas.

Roger Federer, majestic as ever, made it a record seven Wimbledon finals in a row yesterday by clinically disposing of German veteran Tommy Haas and will start favourite against Andy Roddick tomorrow to win the title for the sixth time. A Centre Court victory against the American - a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 winner against Andy Murray last night - will take him beyond Pete Sampras's record of 14 grand-slam titles and few who have watched the way he has dealt with his six challengers here so far would bet against him doing it.

The brilliant serving that the second seed had produced to overcome Croatian giant Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals was on display again as the Swiss maestro refused to allow his opponent a single break point on the way to a 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory. Federer's magic was witnessed by several of the greatest names in the sport, particularly Swedish "ice man" Bjorn Borg, who, like Federer, has five Wimbledon titles, and Australian "Rocket" Rod Laver, who twice recorded the Grand Slam of slams and is probably the only player whose career record rivals that of the Swiss maestro.

Haas, who has performed admirably over the past fortnight, winning a memorable two-day tussle with world No 11 Marin Cilic 10-8 in the final set and ousting world No 4 Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals, stuck bravely to Federer throughout their two-hour battle but never seriously threatened to pull off another shock. "There aren't really any weaknesses in Roger's game," said Haas, 31. "I think he moves so smoothly and has such good defensive play. The slice bites a lot. When you think sometimes you might get a relatively easy volley, he either dinks it in front of you, or he made two spectacular slice lobs over my head at important points."

The efforts of Haas, re-established now as one of the leading players in the game after his career was interrupted by shoulder surgery, were praised by Federer, who admitted he needed to be at his best to keep his 24th-seeded opponent in check. "Tommy was playing so well - I couldn't even get close to breaking him for almost two sets," he said. "You tend to play better when your opponent's playing well and that was the case for me today, so I'm very pleased."

The German saved six of the eight break points against him but it always seemed a matter of time before the assuredness of Federer's ground strokes would wear him down. Haas's chances effectively hinged on the outcome of the tie-break at the end of a serve-dominated opening set. A thrilling backhand return winner by Federer on the eighth point put Haas on the back foot and an off-target backhand of his own saw him facing three set points. Typically, Federer needed only one of them.

The first break point of the match did not arrive until the 10th game of the second set and it provided Federer with a set point which Haas saved with a powerful serve. Haas went on to save another in his next service game but when the fabulous Federer forehand was rewarded with a third, Haas buckled and found himself two sets down. Federer was playing so well at that stage that a straight-sets passage looked a formality. That view was confirmed when Haas, who had stubbornly warded off four break points against him in the eighth game, eventually buckled on the fifth, allowing the second seed to serve for the match.

It was no surprise that he did so to love to be able to rest up early in advance of his 20th grand slam final and run the rule over the two men fighting to join him on Centre Court tomorrow who were engaged in a much tighter encounter. "This year I feel more relaxed," added Federer ominously. "Maybe that's because of Paris [winning an elusive first French Open title last month to complete a career Grand Slam]. Winning a fifth straight Wimbledon [two years ago] to equal Borg's record has also made me more relaxed here."

Only Rafael Nadal, sadly unable to defend his title here because of knee problems, has beaten Federer in grand slam finals. The sublime Swiss is going to take some beating tomorrow as he seeks to regain the No 1 ranking from his Spanish rival. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae