London: If natural talent is a rare gift in sport, then Marat Safin failed to unwrap his precious package in time.
Now, with time running out, the outrageously talented Russian, aged 28, has begun to appreciate the true value of the athletic bounty that nature has bestowed on him.
Well, it is never too late. For, Safin, world ranked No. 75, now stands between Roger Federer and the Swiss maestro’s sixth straight final appearance in the All England Lawn Tennis Club.Contrasting styles
On Wednesday, in the men’s singles quarterfinals of the 122nd Wimbledon championships, Safin and Federer made light of two rain interruptions to win their quarterfinal matches in contrasting styles.
While Federer outclassed Mario Ancic of Croatia 6-1, 7-5, 6-4, Safin overcame a wobbly start to get past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(1), 6-3.Rain delays
Summer sport in England — especially the tennis on the lawns of the All England Lawn Tennis Club — is conducted in partnership with rain. It has not always been an easy relationship; but nature rules out a quick dissolution of the partnership.
In the event, after more than a week of glorious sunshine and almost uninterrupted tennis, the championship ran into foul weather on Wednesday.
The rain, which had kept away for so long this fortnight, promptly arrived at 12.30 p.m., a half hour ahead of the scheduled start on the Centre and No. 1 courts.
In the event, Federer and Ancic as well as Safin and Lopez, the combatants on those two show courts, did not make an appearance until after 1.45 p.m.Quite a party
By then, quite a few glasses of champagne and hundreds of punnets of strawberries might have been consumed by the fans. The estimated consumption of champagne and strawberries for the fortnight is 17,000 bottles and 20,000 tonnes respectively.
Of course, on the centre court, the classy Cardigan Man — as Federer is known — did not take long to dismantle the game of a player who was the last to beat him at Wimbledon, in 2002.
Ancic appeared to believe that the tactics that worked so well six years ago could be gainfully employed once again.
He served and volleyed even on second serves and the master floated low returns to the Croat’s bootlaces and made a mockery of Ancic’s aggression.
The champion won the first set 6-1 in 20 minutes and it was 1-1 in the second set when the showers returned.
On the No. 1 court, Safin was all at sea against Lopez, the only Spaniard who can be said to be a natural on grass.
Lopez, who shares a house with his good friend Rafa in the Wimbledon village, broke a frustrated Safin in the fourth game and cruised to 5-2 — by which time the giant Russian had already slammed his racquet on the turf a few times.Useful break
The two-hour break allowed time for both Ancic and Safin to re-evaluate their strategies and both did pretty well when play resumed.
Ancic was rather more judicious in his sorties to the net while Safin, at last, seemed to have found a way to deal with the left-handed Lopez’s gracefully executed sliced backhands that saw the balls float over the net like snow-flakes, suck up the moisture and stay low on the turf.
Ancic, for his part, stayed with the five-time champion till 5-5 in the second set, serving with greater confidence and trading shot for deep-flung shot from the baseline. But a nervous backhand volley that failed to cross the net followed by a double fault saw Ancic lose serve in the 11th game.
Federer closed out the set on serve with an ace down the middle.
The storm clouds had disappeared by then but Ancic himself seemed to retreat into his own private haze.
After all, when you find out that your fifth gear is only good enough to run alongside your opponent for a precious few minutes, helplessness and a sense of gloom cannot be avoided.
In the event, Ancic very quickly came to terms with the situation and appeared ready to allow the great man to sprint to the finish, riding on a break in the fifth game of the third set.Great going
“I am playing great. Now it is two more matches. I know how to do it,” said a smiling Federer. “To win one more Wimbledon …” trailed off the man who has now made 17 straight Grand Slam semifinals.
In the women’s doubles quarterfinals, India’s Sania Mirza and her American partner Bethanie Mattek did their best to move mountains but, in the end, were good enough only to offer some high-voltage practice to the Williams sisters ahead of the superstars’ singles semifinal matches on Thursday.Super Sisters
The super sisters won 6-4, 6-3. Serena and Venus found an early break in the first set and, after two rain delays, went on to serve out the set.
In the second, the Indian-American pair broke Venus’s serve to go up 2-0 but once the famous sisters broke Mattek’s serve in the long fifth game, they were unstoppable. Sania was broken in the seventh game and from there it was just a matter of time.