Wimbledon whittles tenacious set down to (semi)final few

Roger Federer was eliminated in the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the second straight year on Wednesday, squandering a two-set lead for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament and losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

In the next round, Tsonga will face second-seeded Novak Djokovic, who defeated 18-year-old Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, while Andy Murray moved into the semifinals at Wimbledon for the third straight year by beating Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Murray will face defending champion Rafael Nadal who beat Mardy Fish 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Maria Sharapova is preparing to fight fire with fire on Thursday as she attempts to combat the raw power of German wildcard Sabine Lisicki in a semifinal battle of the big-hitters.

The other side of the women’s draw sees Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova face fourth seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, in a repeat of last year’s third round meeting won by Kvitova 7-5, 6-0.

Six-time Wimbledon champion Federer barely looked challenged while winning the first two sets against the 12th-seeded Frenchman. But the Swiss, who had been 178-0 in matches in which he had won the opening two sets at a major tournament, was broken one time in each of the last three sets.

“It’s kind of hard going out of the tournament that way, but unfortunately it does happen sometimes,” said Federer, who was playing in his 29th straight major quarterfinal. “At least it took him sort of a special performance to beat me, which is somewhat nice.”

How happy?
Federer may be right. The 16-time Grand Slam champion finished the match with only 11 unforced errors, half as many as Tsonga, but it didn’t help him get close to breaking Tsonga’s serve when he needed it.

“I was two sets down and I break. I did a good game of return and after that it was just amazing,” said Tsonga, who had 63 winners, five more than Federer. “I just played unbelievable, served unbelievable and now I’m here, I’m in semifinal and I can’t believe it.”

Federer was seeking a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title this year. He breezed through his opening four matches, losing only one set, and played his usual elegant game against Tsonga.

In the first set, Federer earned his one and only break point of the match in Tsonga’s first service game, and converted it. He held the rest of the way, and then won the second set in the tiebreaker.

But Tsonga finally got his first break in the third set, and another in the fourth and another in the fifth. Those were the Frenchman’s only three breaks.

“He can come up with some good stuff and some poor things at times,” Federer said. “He had basically good return games along the way in the third, fourth, and fifth. I think especially the third set, the break I get is very unusual. He chips back a couple, they stay in.”

Federer has won six titles at the All England Club, including five in a row from 2003 to 2007. He lost to Nadal in the 2008 final in what is considered by many to be one of the greatest matches ever, and then beat Andy Roddick for the championship a year later, winning 16-14 in the fifth set.

Last year, he lost to eventual runner-up Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals.

“It’s the biggest champion in my sport,” Tsonga said. “He achieved a lot of things and he’s just the best player in the world and I’m just so happy to win against him, especially on grass because it’s maybe one of his favourite surface and I’m just so happy today.”

‘The better player’
Instead of Federer improving on his record haul of major titles, 10-time Grand Slam champion Nadal can add to his own.

The top-seeded Spaniard lost one set but did not appear to be bothered by the left foot injury he sustained in his previous match against Juan Martin del Potro.

“Today it was better. The treatment worked and I’m fine. I’m here,” Nadal said. “The previous match was tough for me because for a moment I didn’t know if I had a serious injury but since (it’s) nothing important [it’s] probably going to work.”

On court one, Djokovic overcame a tough match against his protégé, holding on to reach the semifinals for the third time in his career.

Djokovic has been practicing with Tomic on-and-off since the two became friends last year in Australia, but this was the first meeting between the two in a competitive match.

After Tomic put a forehand into the net on match point, the pair had a brief chat at the net. Then, with the crowd applauding, Djokovic did the same while motioning toward Tomic.

“It was a very even match. In the first set I felt I played quite well,” said Djokovic, who finished the match with fewer winners than Tomic, 43-39. “Then I played one really bad service game and he got back into the match. And from that moment on, he was the better player.”

At the start, Djokovic appeared to have little to worry about, rolling through the first set and on his way to a fifth straight major semifinal. But Tomic didn’t quit, instead breaking Djokovic to take a 3-1 lead in the second set and eventually evening the match.

“I definitely think I belong with these guys,” Tomic said. “I mean, sooner or later I’ll play a player like Novak or Rafa and Roger where I’ll have a win, but until then I’ve got to improve.”

Getting there
Tomic again went up a break in the third, but that’s when Djokovic got going. The two-time Grand Slam champion won five straight games to take the third set, and then won the first two games in the fourth. Although Tomic got back on serve at 2-2 and was two points from winning the set at 5-4, Djokovic soon broke to take a 6-5 lead and held for victory.

“It was really hard to predict where he’s going to go. He was not making a lot of unforced errors from the baseline, and that made my life really difficult,” Djokovic said. “I tried to change the pace, but he was better at that. We were playing cat and mouse, I think. But in the end, I’m just happy to get through.”

Djokovic started the 2011 season by winning 41 straight matches, but that came to an end with a loss to Federer in the French Open semifinals. If the Serb reaches the final at the All England Club for the first time this year, he will guarantee himself the No. 1 ranking. He can also claim the top ranking if Nadal fails to defend his title.

Tomic was the youngest man to start in the men’s draw this year, and he’s the youngest to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals since Boris Becker defended his title in 1986.

Murray is trying to become the first British man to win the Wimbledon title since Fred Perry in 1936. And against Lopez, he was never really bothered.

He saved the two break points he faced, both in the third set, and finished off the match by winning the final game at love.

“I’ve played a little bit better every year I’ve come here,” said Murray, who is in the semifinals for the third straight year. “I want to go further.”

Sharapova wary
Russian fifth seed Sharapova has been installed as the bookmakers favourite to win her second Wimbledon title after an impressive march to the last four where she has not yet dropped a set in five matches.

The 2004 champion was in scintillating form in the quarterfinals, where her booming groundstrokes reduced 24th seed Dominika Cibulkova to rubble in a 6-1, 6-1 on centre court.

But Sharapova faces potentially the most challenging opponent left in the women’s tournament in the shape of Lisicki, the 21-year-old who has regularly been clocking serves at around 120 miles per hour.

“A player that’s playing with so much confidence and really great grass court tennis is always very dangerous,” Sharapova said, agreeing with a suggestion that the semi-final could be decided by power rather than finesse.

“I’m sure it will be powerful. She hits very hard. She has probably one of the hardest serves on the tour, and that’s very beneficial.

“She’s used that very well on the grass. So that will be challenging.”

Lisicki’s serve already accounted for the third seeded French Open champion Li Na in the second round, who described Lisicki’s serve as unplayable.

“From the first point until the end of the match, every serve was like 117mph [187.2kmph]. It’s impossible for women,” Li said.

Enjoying every minute
Lisicki, who downed French ninth seed Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 6-1 to become only the second wildcard in Wimbledon history to reach the last four, is also unburdened by expectation.

“Maria’s a great champion and has won Grand Slams. She has been playing really well recently and she’s been at this stage before,” Lisicki said.

“But I have absolutely nothing to lose. I just enjoy myself out there on the court so much.”

Lisicki, whose career went into a tailspin when an ankle injury left her barely able to walk, is determined to savour every moment of her career while she can.

She had already been a Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2009 before disaster struck in 2010 when an ankle injury picked up in Miami sidelined her for five months and sent her ranking plummeting to 218.

“I’m more experienced and calmer. Two years ago it was different. I was more nervous. I couldn’t sleep so good,” said the German.

“But now it’s different. After the injury, I know how fast it can be gone. I just try to enjoy every minute that I’m on the court.”

‘A different story’
Belarusian Azarenka advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time after defeating Tamira Paszek 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday.

Azarenka, who also lost to Kvitova in the final of the Madrid Masters last month, insisted that her recent record would count for nothing on Thursday.

“It’s going to be a different story,” she said. “It’s a completely different game even from we played last year here. It’s going to be completely different game, different stage of the tournament.”

Kvitova secured a second successive Wimbledon semifinal spot with a 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 win over Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova.

Kvitova could become the first left-hander to win the women’s title since Martina Navratilova in 1990.

“It’s great to be back in the semifinal and now I have more experience of the centre court,” said Kvitova, who is bidding to emulate Jana Novotna, the last Czech to win the Venus Rosewater Dish in 1998. — Sapa-AP, AFP

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