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Federer knocked out by Berdych in Wimbledon Quarter finals; Murray keeps British hopes alive

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roger_beaten.jpgA steady breeze was wafting through the green meadows that make up the most pristine tennis park in the world. The restless pilgrims around the hallowed park were busying themselves with the odd little pleasures of the warm British summer, spoilt by strawberries laced with cream or getting high on tea. After all the weatherman had no inkling of the storm that would swirl past the clueless people milling around this quaint Southern suburb of London. The Czech, Tomas Berdych caught the breeze with the strings of his racket to create a storm that rustled enough feathers to write an important page of tennis history - the end of June in 2010 will be remembered as the beginning of the mighty Roger Federer's downhill journey from the dizzying heights of the summit on which he stood alone for seven long and mesmerising summers.

Berdych showed composure and skill in taking the wind out of the champion's sails as he stood firm in the path of the seven time finalist and six time champion - defeating him 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 and 6-4 in the great man's backyard. Centre Court was stunned at the flashing brilliance of Berdych's forehand as he was pounding winners at will, leaving Federer in a daze. Andy Murray stayed the course, as he continued his journey to emancipate a nation of its deprived existence. The Scot turned the match on its head towards the end of the second set, before brushing aside his French rival Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to set up a semi-final date with Rafael Nadal. Murray won 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-2 in a two part match that lasted two hours and 49 minutes.

Novak Djokovic sealed his place at the table for four, when he put an end to the dreamy run of the Taiwanese man who put out Andy Roddick's flames in the quarter-finals. Djokovic was more than Yen-Hsun Lu could handle as the 82nd seed soon realised in a lop-sided loss that read 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and took a mere 111 minutes of the Serb's precious time. Robin Soderling continued to promise much and deliver little - he started like a house on fire, winning five straight games before fizzling out faster than a wet firecracker to lose yet again at the hands of Nadal. The Spanish matador, stung by the early exuberance of the Swede, came back more like a charging bull to eliminate Soderling 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(1), 6-1 in two hours and 43 minutes.

Federer has owned every inch of Centre Court since 2003 - winning six finals and losing just one in the fading light of the English Summer in 2008, in what is considered arguably the second greatest match of all time (after the Borg - McEnroe final of 1980). The Swiss has struggled on his way to the last eight against all and sundry, and it became obvious relatively soon that he had a struggle on hand today if he intended to continue his occupation of the finest piece of tennis real estate. Serving first, the defending champion needed ten points to hold serve as he was taken twice to deuce despite being up 40-15. Berdych started to rattle the top seed with his powerful first serves - he averaged 129mph through the match - and a forehand that seemed like a power hammer. An unsettled Federer started to make errors, falling behind 0-30 in the seventh game. He clawed his way back to parity, but then made a couple of errors off either flank to hand the 12th seed the first break of the match. Berdych took the opportunity and ran away with the set, closing it out with a service winner down the middle.

It was as if the great start was more than Berdych could handle - he seemed jittery at the beginning of the second set, serving a double fault and following it up with a forehand into the net to give Federer two break points. The world number two ripped a cross court forehand winner to take a 2-0 lead. Through the rest of the set, it was Berdych who struggled to hold serve and for a brief passage of time it appeared that the Czech may consume himself in the quagmire that so often colours his mind and blinds his talents. Though he lost the second set, he started the third with confidence to set aside any thoughts of a frail performance. He broke Federer in the second and sixth games to dominate the set and take a commanding two sets to one lead.

If Federer's footwork was bad, his timing was even worse as he sprayed the forehand wide or at times took the ball on his frame. He fought on gamely, serving with purpose to stay in the match. Federer's biggest opportunity to find a way back into the contest came in the sixth game of the set. But when he squandered all four break points, the writing was clear even in the beads of sweat on the great champion's creasy brow. Berdych stepped on the gas to break the distraught Federer in the very next game. He held serve to consolidate the break and lead 5-3, the end was nigh. Federer held serve in the following game to force Berdych to serve out the match. As we are well aware, the Swiss genius is no ordinary champion, he threaded the kind of backhand down the line pass that we know him for, to raise a glimmer of hope. He even held break point, but it just wasn't to be. Berdych struck yet another crisp forehand winner to leave the champion looking into the sinking ground beneath his wobbly feet. The 24-year old raised his arms in triumph to celebrate his second straight grand slam semi-final, the smile on his face suggesting that finally the Czech was ready to reap his talent and walk in the footsteps of his great forebears like Ivan Lendl and Jan Kodes. The later was the last Czech to win Wimbledon, when he did so in 1973.

Andy Murray arrived into the last eight without dropping a set, but his opponent from across the canal was barely letting the Scot breathe as he fought like the "Ali" he wishes to be - taking the first set tie-break to gain the early edge. In the second set, Murray broke early to lead 3-0, but Tsonga broke back in the fifth game before he took match into a second tie-break. At 5-4 in the breaker, he was two points from a two sets to none lead and it is difficult to believe that the Scot would have found the energy to recover from such a steep deficit. In the event, Murray pieced together three straight points to take the second set and bring about a change in fortune that was both sudden and seismic. Tsonga never recovered from being ambushed in the tie-break, as he surrendered two breaks each in the third and fourth set to turn from fierce aggressor to tame loser. Murray though kept his head through the match to emerge a deserving winner. He will play his second straight semi-final at Wimbledon, and now the big question around the streets of London and shires of England is whether the temperamental Scot has it within him to overcome the greatest fighter in tennis - the best in the world, Rafael Nadal.

Nadal had a shaky start against Soderling, losing the first five games of the match, and though he fought back to win three games, the set was lost. The disaster that was unfolding awoke in him the warrior spirit that embellishes his existence. The man from Majorca started to piece together the scrambled mess and by the time he broke Soderling in the second game of the second set, it was obvious that the Spaniard was building a fortress that the Swede would find difficult to breach. And so it turned out to be as Nadal held Soderling's considerable weapons at bay for the rest of the match. Soderling threw one last punch, when he broke Rafa in the tenth game of the third set to stay in it. But he capitulated in the face of Nadal's ferocity to lose the tie-break, winning just a solitary point. A visibly clueless Swede sleep walked through the fourth set as Nadal broke twice to race away with the set and the match.

Novak Djokovic had the easiest day of them all as he wiped the court with an out of depth Yen-Hsun Lu, who was stuck in the ring with a fighter that was way beyond his class. And neither could he discover some of the magic that helped him put away Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals. The Serb sent the man nicknamed Randy packing to Asia to celebrate his successful run at this wonderful tournament. He will face Berdych in the semi-finals. Djokovic has a great chance to make the finals considering that his tools match well against a player like Berdych. The Czech will be faced with an opponent who will return serve much better than a struggling Federer on Wednesday, which means he will not gain the positional advantage that helped him put away the Swiss with ease. Berdych though can take the confidence that comes from beating someone of the pedigree of Roger and take his chances.

The interest of the world though will focus on the match between Murray and Nadal. Once again serve is going to be critical factor, since the rest of their game matches up almost evenly on the surface. Nadal does not possess the best of service returns and Murray is very capable of clearing the court - combine that and a high first serve percentage, Nadal could struggle. On the other hand Nadal will look to return deep enough to engage in a rally, before milking the Scotsman's wavering patience.

If you are even remotely interested in tennis, get stuck on a comfy couch and watch who among these men will join Nadal at the top of the tennis world. The Sun though is firmly setting on the Federer era, he may yet win the odd grand slam, but his days of dominance are certainly over. Federer has given us unstilted joy with an exhibition of consistent genius that will take many years to match. He has pushed the envelope and created for us a generation of players that promise to take the game forward with tennis that will continue to take our breath away.

Scores:

Gentlemen's Singles - Semi-finals
[12] T Berdych (CZE) d [1] R Federer 64 36 61 64
[2] R Nadal (ESP) d [6] R Soderling (SWE) 36 63 76(4) 61
[3] N Djokovic (SRB) d Y Lu (TPE) 63 62 62
[4] A Murray (GBR) d [10] J Tsonga (FRA) 67(5) 76(5) 62 62

Semi-Finals
[12] T Berdych (CZE) v [3] N Djokovic (SRB)
[2] R Nadal (ESP) v [4] A Murray (GBR)

File Photograph Copyright: Simon Tregidgo

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