Awesome Federer leaves Murray baffled
Swiss maestro hits heights to book final berth
Killing me softly with his serve. It would seem at an apt title, at least from Andy Murray's helpless perspective, for Roger Federer's latest symphony in whites.
Deep in the third set, Murray, his patience all but extinguished by the relentless arrows fired from the Swiss racket, shot a reproachful look at his coaching team and shouted: "What do you want me to do?"
Such is the potency of the Federer effect. Even one month shy of his 34th birthday, the peerless aristocrat of Centre Court is still producing a quality of tennis that reduces his old adversaries to meek incomprehension.
While Andy Roddick, one year Federer's junior, was relishing retirement to a BBC commentary booth, his long-time nemesis was burnishing this stage with all the lush brushstrokes of old.
While Mark Philippoussis, the victim in the first of Federer's 10 Wimbledon finals in 2003, chose to carve out a living in hit-and-giggles on the veterans' circuit, the ceaseless champion preferred to redraw the parameters of his greatness.
We dared to assume that we had witnessed the decline of 'peak Roger' - we had already read the eulogies for a player who won 11 majors in just four seasons from 2004. On this evidence, though, he is officially back from extinction.
One might tentatively ascribe Federer's late-career renaissance to the coaching of Stefan Edberg.
But who in the world has the presumptuousness to claim to coach such a talent? Who can possibly teach the flick of the wrist with which he dispatched a fine Murray volley in the deciding game, or his ability to survive 45 minutes of a Wimbledon semi-final without dropping a point behind his first serve?
Time and again, these serves scraped the paint off the lines like tracer bullets. There has not been an exhibition of serving to compare since the zenith of Pete Sampras, whose record of seven titles here Federer hopes to eclipse tomorrow.
The sentimental might argue that this contest is best remembered for the unforgettable quarter of an hour in which Murray saved five set points to level at 5-5 in the second.
Ultimately, however, it was nothing but an aesthetically heightened interlude. Two games later, Federer had put an exclamation point upon the set with a sumptuous forehand volley.
In the face of such omnipotence, even the umpire was rendered a redundant observer. Twice Mohamed Lahyani issued confident-sounding overrules, only for Federer to challenge and be vindicated on both occasions. Such is the sweet torture of pursuing perfection, perhaps.
Some years ago, American author David Foster Wallace wrote an essay for The New York Times entitled 'Roger Federer as Religious Experience'. In many respects it remains a canonical text in the annals of Roger-ography, depicting Federer's lissom coverage of a tennis court as the apotheosis of kinetic beauty.
Now, it is tempting to dismiss such glorification as just another salivating paean to a man who has not exactly wanted for praise in his time.
And yet the central point, that Federer is the consummate grasscourt craftsman through sheer economy and effortlessness of movement, is statistically provable. Exhaustive records showed that Federer, in advancing to the semi-finals, had run almost two miles fewer than his rivals, Djokovic and Murray included.
This goes to the heart of why, in an unprecedented 63rd consecutive major tournament, he is able not merely to legitimise longevity for its own sake but to establish standards of flawlessness that would astonish most diamond merchants.
He is reaching back to his defining quality of exhibiting the greatest artistry while expending the least energy in the process.
As usual, Federer's cool urbanity never slipped yesterday after the 7-5 7-5 6-4 victory. One quick shower, and he was straight into a wide-ranging press conference in five languages, all conducted in his monogrammed and pristine white clothing range.
He needed no invitation, after one of the most complete performances ever seen at Wimbledon, to argue that his refusal to step away - even despite the fleeting disappointments, not least the second-round defeat to Sergei Stakhovsky two years ago - had been validated.
"I always knew the reason I was playing, and I don't need to explain a whole lot to you guys," he said, with classic hauteur. "I think the fans know why I'm playing. I enjoy it.
"I work hard in practice. It is an amazing feeling when you come back from the match and everybody is so happy for you, even in the royal box. When I was walking back, there was applause all the way to the locker room. That's something I don't remember really having here.
"I just feel that people are very happy for me, and at the same time I'm extremely pleased with how I'm playing."
Not since 2007, when Federer equalled Bjorn Borg's record of five straight triumphs, had he bathed in such universal acclaim. All the dignitaries in attendance, from Rod Laver to Borg himself, from Alex Ferguson to Thierry Henry, stood in rapt applause as Federer defied every law by which champions are supposed to lose their gifts.
Naturally, a few of the 'Fed Heads' were present, too, decked out in the colours of the Swiss flag for another session of hero worship.
But this was unlike some of the previous encounters between Murray and Federer, where the champion has been thrust into the role of crowd favourite and where the atmosphere in SW19 has felt akin a version of Zurich-on-Thames.
Here the audience remained scrupulously fair to Murray, twitching when he faltered but cheering vociferously when he delivered his memorable second-set riposte. It would be the one and only moment that Murray tried to whip up a little local fervour. There were no other opportunities, such was the scale of the Federer supremacy.
Federer has hurt Murray like no other. He has made him cry copiously in public twice, first in Melbourne in 2010 and again at Wimbledon the following summer. This time, Federer simply made him, not to mention the other 15,000 souls present, gasp in awe at his ageless powers. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Men's final, Live, BBC/Setanta, tomorrow, 2.0