LONDON — Roger Federer’s greatness in the Wimbledon semifinals was drugging, anesthetizing. If he had clapped a rag of chloroform over the mouth of Andy Murray at the All England club, he couldn’t have done a better job of knocking out his opponent and kidnapping the tournament. The sheer sweetness in Federer’s palms made his opponent sag — and the audience, too.
The 33-year-old always has been a man of deceptively mild outward temperament, but in his stunning semifinal victory over Murray on Friday, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4, he was in the most dangerously silken form of his life. This was black-out tennis. As close set after close set fell in Federer’s favor, you found yourself wondering, how could something so ecstatically good be so dulling? How could something so smooth be such a blow? It’s worth observing that Federer has as much hardness in his hands as he does softness, and he is accustomed to getting what he wants: He has won 17 Grand Slams.
“I know what I’m trying to achieve,” he said.
In Sunday’s final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, he will try to become the first man in history to win Wimbledon eight times. As the great British sportswriter Simon Barnes has observed of Federer, “I doubt if any athlete has ever exploited serenity to the same devastating effect.”
With the victory Friday, Federer reached his 26th Grand Slam final, and it’s hard to overstate the breadth of that achievement because he has done it in a golden age of men’s tennis. His opponent, Djokovic, who defeated Richard Gasquet in straight sets, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-4, will be playing his 18th major final. Few eras have been populated by a set of players with games as big and complete as Djokovic, Murray and Rafael Nadal, well-defined champions who all might set all-time records if they didn’t have to face each other in Grand Slams.
“It’s an extremely tough time to win these major events,” Murray pointed out, “because the guys that are around are phenomenal tennis players.”
Murray, the Scotsman and 2013 Wimbledon champion, was a threatening opponent, five years younger and with a home crowd behind him. But he simply couldn’t meet Federer’s magnificent shot-making or serve. Federer faced just one break point — in the first game of the match. Murray never had as good a chance again.
“I couldn’t get a racket on too many returns,” he said.
But just as devastating were the groundstrokes from those remarkable palms that could redirect the ball from seemingly any angle for 56 winners. Federer just did everything a little easier than Murray, hitting it so absolutely pure that Murray only could try to hang in there and hope an edge came off the knife.
Given the quality of Federer’s play, it was a valiant performance by Murray just to keep the sets close. The competitive high point of the match came as Murray served at 4-5 in the second set, when he somehow held on to win a seven-deuce siege of a game that lasted 17 minutes and in which he fought off five set points.
They dodged up and back and from corner to corner, digging out low slices that made the crowd come alive and gasp in the middle of points or rapping huge winners that caused deep frantic roars. “It felt like every point was ending with a winner,” Murray said. Federer would surge to the net, and Murray would roll composed passing shots by him.
“Inside I was screaming,” Federer told the BBC later, as he came off the court.
Murray held — but in the end, it meant nothing. Federer won his own serve at love and then broke Murray for the set, when he laid his whole torso into a forehand up the line and followed it with an easy high volley into open court.
“I was fighting as hard as I could,” Murray said. “A shame I couldn’t keep it up.”
From the audience standpoint, there was nothing left to do but appreciate Federer. His shot-making continued: In the seventh game of the third set, at 0-15, he struck a fully extended, running backhand flick job that was purely stupendous.
“When the confidence is there and you have a clear mind, that’s sometimes the stuff you can come up with,” he said.
It was, he admitted, one of the great match performances of his life, on one of the biggest occasions. The crowd knew it, too. Though he beat the home favorite, throngs of people applauded him the entire way back to the locker room. “That’s something I don’t remember having,” he said.
“Clearly it’s an amazing feeling,” he added. “I need to keep it up for one more match to make it the perfect week.”