By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Roger Federer’s relentless pursuit of a record eighth Wimbledon title continued as he fought off stubborn Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6(4) 7-6(4) 6-4 to reach the final for the 11th time on Friday.
The 35-year-old Swiss was given his toughest test yet by the 11th seed, who beat him at the quarter-final stage in 2010, but he raised his game at the crucial moments to become the oldest men’s singles finalist here since Ken Rosewall in 1974.
Rosewall, then aged 39, went on to lose to Jimmy Connors but Federer will be a huge favorite to reclaim the title he last won in 2012 against big-serving Croatian Marin Cilic on Sunday.
Federer has now reached 29 grand slam finals and for the third time in his career has reach the Wimbledon final without dropping a set, having also achieved the feat in 2006 and 2008.
“I feel very privileged to be in another final,” Federer, who received a standing ovation at the end, said.
“I’ve got the pleasure to play on Centre Court another time. I can’t believe it’s almost true again. I’m happy to have a day off to reflect on what I’ve done at the tournament.”
Twelve months ago here Federer lost to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals – his legs looking heavy and the years finally appearing to catch up with him – but this year he has rolled back the clock in glorious fashion.
He now is one-match away from holding two of the game’s major four prizes for the first time since 2010 having begun the year by claiming the Australian Open title.
Berdych, who reached the semi-final after second seed Novak Djokovic retired hurt in the quarters, spent a diligent two hours and 18 minutes at the coalface on Friday.
But while 31-year-old toiled with his muscular game it was the dashing Federer who supplied the gems.
Federer, contesting a record 12th Wimbledon semi-final, broke serve in the fifth game when he ran Berdych ragged before whipping a ball out of the air into the corner.
Out of nowhere Berdych broke back for 4-4 when Federer – to gasps from the crowd – double-faulted at break point down.
Berdych’s best chance of shaking Federer out of his silky rhythm was to grab the opening set but a terrible forehand at 3-4 in the subsequent tiebreak allowed Federer breathing space which he used to clinch the opener.
Tennis has seen few better front-runners than Federer and while Berdych manfully stayed with his opponent in the second set he never was able to apply any real pressure.
His only chance came when he had Federer 15-40 down at 2-3 but, as great champions do, the Swiss responded with a couple of slide-rule aces to avert the danger.
Three consecutive forehand winners gave a ruthless Federer control of the second set tiebreak as he moved two sets clear.
Berdych refused to throw in the towel and had break points at 3-3 in the third set, only for Federer to fling down three aces to finally break his rival’s spirit.
The end came quickly as Federer broke in the next game and he sealed victory, his 90th at the All England Club, when Berdych netted a forehand, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd who simply cannot get enough of the Swiss history-maker.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)