WIMBLEDON, England >> With each gorgeous passing shot and fist pump from Andy Murray, the noise and energy at Centre Court surged. Murray was engaged in a critical fight to stay alive in the second set of his match with Roger Federer, and he was producing the daring, line-kissing shots to do it.
The scintillating game, which Murray trailed, 0-40, at one point, lasted 17 minutes and featured seven deuces and five set points for Federer. With the fans responding to all his exhortations, Murray held serve to win what seemed, at the time, like a match-changing mini-marathon. Down a set, he had drawn even at 5-5 in the second.
Then Federer came out and held his serve at love in 92 seconds.
Whatever momentum Murray had produced in the preceding game through sheer will, whatever excitement had built to a crescendo in the stadium, had flitted out through the open roof. Federer was back in command in yet another brilliant performance on the Centre Court grass.
In the next game, he broke Murray’s serve to take the set and went on to win the Wimbledon semifinal 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 in a match that was much closer than the straight-sets score line indicated.
“Definitely one of the best matches I’ve played in my career,” Federer, 33, said.
He has played 10 Wimbledon semifinals and won them all. On Sunday, Federer will go for a record eighth Wimbledon title and an 18th Grand Slam championship against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who defeated Richard Gasquet, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4.
It will be a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final, which Djokovic won in five sets, and the two top seeds undoubtedly deserve to be there. As well as Federer is playing, Djokovic is on the same plane.
Federer has not won a Grand Slam tournament since he beat Murray at Wimbledon in 2012, and in the intervening three years, he never played quite as exceptionally as he is playing now. His movement across the grass is almost as swift as ever. His groundstrokes are typically precise, his net game may have even improved, and his serve Friday was almost unreturnable.
Federer served 20 aces and double-faulted only once. He got his first serve in 76 percent of the time and won a staggering 84 percent of the points in which he did.
“It’s frustrating, obviously, when you’re out there because I couldn’t get a racket on a lot of the returns,” Murray said.
He added: “I played some very good tennis. I served well, the best I probably served in the tournament myself.”
But Federer was, as the players say, just too good. Among his many sensational shots was a sublime backhand flick across the court that should be bronzed and sent to the Federer hall of fame. In the third set, Murray was serving at 4-5, 0-15, and he hit a forehand that sent Federer far to his right, then pushed him way over to his left with a swinging volley.
But as Murray waited at the net, Federer hit a slow, flick backhand at an acute angle that eluded Murray and dropped safely in. Murray was helpless.
“When the confidence is there and you have a clear mind, that’s sometimes the stuff you can come up with,” said Federer, who won the match four points later.
The first semifinal was also closer than the score indicated. It was especially close in the first set through the fourth point of the tiebreaker. But at 2-2, Djokovic reeled off the next five points and won the set, and he was in control after that.
His biggest problem seemed to be a sore left shoulder that required some massage treatment from his trainer during changeovers. Djokovic said he just woke up with it.
“Nothing major that concerns me for the next match,” he said.
On another changeover in the third set, Gasquet seemed to be in worse pain, though not of the physical kind. He sat on his chair looking downward, sweat dripping off his chin. Djokovic was just too talented to beat.
A few hours later, Murray felt much the same way about Federer.