With neither a grunt nor a groan, Roger Federer glided into his third consecutive Wimbledon final Friday by subduing a spirited effort from Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).
Federer's opponent in Sunday's championship match remains unclear, as rain called a halt to the day's other semifinal, which pitted American Andy Roddick against Thomas Johansson, with Roddick leading 6-5 in the first set.
But after Federer's dazzling display against Hewitt, the world's second-ranked player, the question of Sunday's opponent seemed almost irrelevant. The way Federer has played this fortnight -- not dropping a set in six matches while extending his winning streak on grass to 35 -- the Swiss seems destined to win his third consecutive Wimbledon title.
It's not that Federer is so physically overpowering. Pass him on a sidewalk, and you wouldn't take him for a professional athlete. His height (6 feet 1) is as ordinary as his weight (177), and his musculature is hardly exceptional. But there is simply something magical about the way he coasts around the court in pursuit of the ball and, once in the ideal position for swatting it, wields his racket like Merlin wields a wand.
If there's a fault to be found in Federer's game it's that he's not demonstrative. His display of emotion over the course of Friday's 2-hour 8-minute tussle with Hewitt was limited to a single shout of "Yes!" accompanied by a clenched fist when the Aussie plowed one last forehand into the net to seal the outcome.
To the dismay of many fans, Federer's game is not interactive like that of Jimmy Connors, who fed off the roar of the crowd the way catfish feed off muck. Federer's game, rather, is a thing to behold, like a Grecian urn.
And to Hewitt's dismay, Federer has only gotten better over the last year or so, during which Hewitt has compulsively been fine-tuning his own game.
As Hewitt quickly learned Friday, Federer has arrived at Wimbledon with an improved return of serve. And he wasted no time flaunting his new skill, breaking Hewitt twice in the opening set. Federer has also upgraded his own serve, and he relied on it time and again to extricate himself from any situation that even hinted of trouble. While Federer doesn't serve with the velocity of Roddick, he places his serves with the precision of a diamond-cutter. Against Hewitt, he was broken just once and delivered 10 aces.
Federer's reward is a welcome day of rest before Sunday's final, while Roddick was sent home with the burden of an unfinished semifinal. Assuming the weather complies Saturday, Roddick and Johansson will resume play at noon (7 a.m. EST).
Fittingly, Roddick opened the match against Johansson Friday with an ace -- his 79th of the tournament -- that was clocked at 142 mph. He allowed Johansson just two points through his first four service games. But Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open victor who is seeded 12th, hung in. He worked harder to hold his serve, but did so all the same.
Roddick, seeded second, is bidding to reach his second consecutive Wimbledon final, having lost to Federer in four sets last year.
He was leading in last year's final when rain interrupted play, and he was never as sharp once the match resumed.
Hewitt, meantime, is left to ponder what he can do against Federer that he hasn't tried already. Friday's loss was his eighth consecutive to the Swiss.
"I feel like I've lifted my game the last 18 months or so," a dejected Hewitt said afterward. "I've got no doubt that I feel I'm the second-best player going around right at the moment. It's just that the best player going around is pretty bloody good."