- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

WIMBLEDON, England — The last man to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon became the latest to lose against him yesterday.

With a performance stellar even by his high standards, Federer avenged a loss to Mario Ancic on the same Centre Court four years ago, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his ninth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.

“It was difficult, knowing he was the last guy to beat me here,” Federer said. “I remember I was very sad after that match.”

Federer was joined in the final four by two improbable semifinalists, Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.

Bjorkman, 34, became the oldest man to reach the Wimbledon semifinals since Jimmy Connors in 1987, beating Radek Stepanek 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 6-4. Baghdatis, who won a tour-level match on grass for the first time only last month, beat 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Ancic was an 18-year-old qualifier making his Grand Slam debut when he defeated Federer in the first round in 2002. Federer has won the past three Wimbledon championships and 46 consecutive grass-court matches and needs two more victories for his eighth major title.

“I thought I played a terrific match,” Federer said. “If I keep up this type of play, it’ll be pretty good.”

Only two rain delays — the first since the opening day of the tournament — slowed the progress of Federer, who has yet to lose a set through five rounds. His opponent tomorrow will be the unseeded Bjorkman, who lost his only other Grand Slam semifinal nine years ago at the U.S. Open.

“I’m very emotional here — I just realized that I won,” Bjorkman said moments after the match. “I didn’t really believe that I had any semifinals left in me. It’s an unbelievable feeling, a big surprise … a lot of Advil the last couple of weeks.”

Baghdatis, who became the pride of Cyprus by making the Australian Open final in January, converted all seven of his break-point chances to beat Hewitt. He will play the winner of the match between French Open champion Rafael Nadal and No.22 Jarkko Nieminen, whose quarterfinal was postponed until today because of fading light.

In today’s women’s semifinals, 2004 champion Maria Sharapova will play No.1 Amelie Mauresmo, and No.2 Kim Clijsters will face No.3 Justine Henin-Hardenne in the 20th career match between the Belgian rivals.

Sharapova’s quarterfinal victory Tuesday drew a visit from a streaker, and before the seventh game of Federer’s match, two fully clothed men came onto the court carrying rackets and balls. One of them hit a shot before security guards approached, and the men departed as Federer watched with a smile.

Then his latest grass-court gem resumed.

Federer’s shots consistently landed inches from a line, and he countered Ancic’s serve-and-volley tactics by being aggressive himself. He came to the net behind one return while Ancic also moved forward, the result being a rare point-blank exchange of volleys that Federer won.

Ancic held his own in baseline rallies, winning 18- and 21-shot exchanges in the first set. But Federer coped well with the 6-foot-5 Ancic’s big serve, hitting some returns nearly as hard, with one forehand clocked at 104 mph.

“I thought sometimes that I did some unbelievable shots,” Ancic said. “I did exactly what I had to, and I was getting passed or [he was] getting some winners from nowhere. He played unbelievable. He’s just Roger. What can you say?”

Federer had 35 winners and 17 unforced errors, and he survived one shaky moment. Serving at 4-3 in the first set, he committed three uncharacteristically sloppy errors, including a double fault that left him facing a break point for only the seventh time in the tournament.

He escaped and held with a service winner, and in the opening game of the second set, he literally brought Ancic to his knees. The Croat lunged in vain at the net to intercept a passing shot. Two points later, Federer passed Ancic again to break for 1-0.

Federer won 30 of 34 service points during one stretch, including 14 in a row. He did lose serve for the second time in the tournament, but the break came only after he took a 3-0 lead in the final set.

He erased another break point with a sharply angled forehand winner and held for 5-3, then closed the victory with his seventh ace.

“I definitely had a period where it was so good, it was just incredible,” Federer said. “You get the feeling that you’re absolutely in control.”

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