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Federer: I still have firepower to shoot down big hitters

 

By Paul Newman

The millions of Roger Federer fans around the world will not be the only ones happy at the prospect of their hero playing in his 42nd Grand Slam semi-final here today.

The three other semi-finalists - Tomas Berdych, who will face Federer, Sam Querrey and Marin Cilic - are all excellent players, but it will be left to the seven-times champion to provide a respite from the relentless big hitting that has become such a feature of the modern game.

Men's tennis has enjoyed a golden era thanks to the brilliance of the so-called Big Four, who have provided a rich mix of game styles and skills: Federer with his elegance and aggression, Rafael Nadal with his iron will and durability, Novak Djokovic with his all-round brilliance and Andy Murray with his counter-attacking and athleticism.

As all four head towards the twilight of their careers, however, there is a danger that the next generation of champions will not have the same widespread appeal because they are dominated by big hitters who do not have the same variety in their games.

If you had taken Federer, Djokovic and Murray out of the quarter-final line-up here you would have been left with five physical giants whose game is all about hitting huge serves and bludgeoning massive ground strokes from the baseline: Berdych (6ft 5in), Cilic (6ft 6in), Querrey (6ft 6in), Milos Raonic (6ft 5in) and Gilles Muller (6ft 4in).

Federer (6ft 1in) may be the bookmakers' favourite to win the title here on Sunday, but the 35-year-old Swiss knows that the three other semi-finalists can knock over anyone just on the strength of their power.

"These other guys are all big hitters," Federer said. "I feel like they will have their word to say about the outcome of the matches. They've got big serves, big forehands. They're big hitters.

"All three guys are taller and stronger than I am. I've got to figure out a different way, carve my way through the draw somehow with my slice and my spins, my consistency maybe. I'm looking forward to doing that."

Federer, nevertheless, welcomes the fact that the big hitters have been prospering over the last two weeks. "The big guys, the big servers are coming through," he said. "It's nice to see that's paying off for the bigger hitters, not just the grinders from the baseline like we know it. A certain different style of play gets rewarded as well."

On the face of it Federer might also be at a disadvantage in that he is 35, significantly older than Berdych (31), Querrey (29) and Cilic (28). However, the world No 5 has always taken care of his body, to the extent that he took off the last six months of last year and also gave himself a 10-week break during this year's clay-court season.

"Once you hit 30, you've got to look back and think of how much tennis have I played, how much rest did I give my body over the years, how much training have I done, did I do enough, did I overdo it or not enough," Federer said. "It's always calibrating the whole thing.

"For me it worked out. That doesn't mean it's going to work out for everybody. But sometimes maybe the body and the mind do need a rest. You just want to take that decision early enough or see it coming and anticipate."

He added: "I'm much better prepared for Wimbledon this year than last year. Last year I had a hard, hard time practising through the clay-court season. The grass-court season was difficult because of the back issues I had and the knee issues. I was really lacking practice really.

"Then in the matches, I could never really play quite so freely last year just because I was more focused on how the knee was behaving rather than how I needed to hit my forehand or backhand, or what's not going to be good for my opponent.

"This year I'm just a normal tennis player again where I can focus on tactics. I think that's the difference. I'm playing very well. I'm rested. I'm fresh. I'm confident, too. Then great things do happen. Confidence is a huge thing."

Asked if he felt "super-charged" now, Federer said: "The idea was that I would feel my best in the second week of Wimbledon. I feel like it's coming along nicely, to be quite honest."

Berdych has played in one Grand Slam final, having lost to Nadal here in 2010, while Cilic is the only other Grand Slam champion among the semi-finalists. The 28-year-old Croat won the 2014 US Open, where he beat Kei Nishikori in the final.

"Winning the US Open has helped me for all these Grand Slams I have played so far, and I believe the rest of my career," Cilic said. "Preparation-wise I believe in my own abilities. I believe when coming at these stages of the tournament that I'm going to still be able to play great tennis. I know I have it in me that I can win. That's extremely important.

"For the other part, I think an extremely important part is to be mentally fresh, mentally ready. It's a matter of a few points here and there that can make a huge difference. I believe being really mentally focused every single match these last couple of months has helped me to get to the point where I'm a little bit stronger mentally. I believe that can make a huge difference."

Cilic hopes that his experience will be an advantage against Querrey, who has knocked out the world No 1 and defending champion in his last two visits here with his victories over Djokovic and Murray but will be playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final.

"Maybe that can have a small part in the match, but I don't think it's going to matter big-time," Cilic said. "I think Sam has played really well this year and even last year over here at Wimbledon too. He's got a big game that potentially that can hurt anyone in the game."

Wimbledon is Querrey's favourite tournament.

"I knew I could make the second week," he said.

"I'm comfortable on the grass. I like playing at Wimbledon. It's been a dream tournament so far. Hopefully I can keep it going and go one round further."

The American will be playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final at the 42nd attempt, which is a record in the Open era. He admitted there had been times when he doubted he would ever make it this far.

"Last year definitely gave me a new boost that I could do it, but there have been times in my career where I definitely thought, if I had to bet, am I going to make a semi, I probably would have gone no," he said.

"Now that I made the quarters last year and the semis here, I'm feeling confident."

Belfast Telegraph

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