Outstanding Federer proves class really is permanent
Defeat is never easy to take, especially in a semi-final, but Andy Murray should take comfort from the fact that he was beaten here last night by a stunning display from the greatest player in history.
For years now we have been wondering whether we have already seen the best of Roger Federer, but his 7-5 7-5 6-4 victory over Murray was surely as good as almost any performance from his remarkable career.
In the last five years, Federer has won only one Grand Slam title - when he beat Murray in the final here three summers ago - but the 33-year-old Swiss may be on the brink of perhaps the most extraordinary victory of his life.
When he faces Novak Djokovic for the second year in succession in the final here tomorrow, Federer will attempt to become the first player ever to win the men's singles title at the All England Club eight times.
At 33 years and 338 days, Federer will be the oldest player to appear in a Wimbledon final since Ken Rosewall finished runner-up in 1974 at 39 years and 246 days. Federer will also extend his own record by playing in his 26th Grand Slam final.
It was a brilliant all-round display, but Federer's serving in particular was breath-taking. Murray said afterwards that the Swiss had never served better against him in their 24 meetings.
Federer put 76 per cent of his first serves in court - high by any player's standards - and won 84 per cent of the points when those first serves found the target. In the second set he put 19 first serves in the court and won the point on every one of them. Federer hit 20 aces to Murray's 12.
Murray's first serve speed was actually faster than Federer's - 119mph to 118mph - but the more telling statistic was their second serve speeds. Federer averaged 100mph and Murray 89mph.
In all other respects, nevertheless, Murray had every reason to be pleased with his performance.
He brought the best out of Federer with some excellent defence, hit some splendid winning passes and lobs when the Swiss charged forward and remained competitive throughout.
Sometimes your best is just not good enough.
Murray will no doubt regret not converting his only break point in the opening game, which he had created with a thumping backhand winner down the line.
Federer saved it with an unreturned serve. From that moment onwards both men held their serves until Murray served at 5-6.
At 15-15 he put a loose forehand in the net and on the next point Federer ran round a weak second serve to hit a huge forehand cross-court winner.
Murray saved the first set point with a splendid forehand pass down the line, but on the second Federer smacked a crunching backhand to Murray's feet which the Scot was unable to pick up.
In the fourth game of the second set, Federer created another break point, but this time Murray held on.
Greater drama was to come when Murray served at 4-5. The Scot went 0-40 down, having made two errors, saved three set points by levelling to deuce and then saved two more before finally winning the game with an ace after seven deuces and nearly 15 minutes.
When Murray served at 5-6, the Scot again stared down the barrel. A stunning backhand winner down the line took Federer to 15-30 and two points later a loose backhand into the net by Murray handed the Swiss his sixth set point. Murray defended bravely under relentless attack, but Federer found a way through.
Murray held serve more easily in the third set until he served at 4-5. He went 0-15 down after netting a backhand and 0-30 down when Federer flicked a breath-taking backhand cross-court.
Murray recovered to 30-30 only for Federer to create match point with a superb backhand return. He wasted no time completing victory after two hours and seven minutes as Murray missed a forehand on the next point.
While Federer goes into a repeat of last year's final against Djokovic, Murray will lick his wounds and prepare for another major challenge next weekend when Britain take on France in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup at Queen's Club.