WIMBLEDON, England – After curling in a 102 mph ace to grab a two-set lead a mere 56 minutes into his Wimbledon quarterfinal Wednesday, Roger Federer casually pulled an extra tennis ball from his pocket and strolled to sit in his changeover chair for a sip to drink.
No fist pump. No yell of excitement. No energized jog to the sideline.
There still was work to be done; nothing to be taken for granted. Motivated by the bitter memory of quarterfinal losses at the All England Club the past two years, including a wasted two-set edge in 2011, six-time Wimbledon champion Federer bullied 26th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 to reach his record 32nd career Grand Slam semifinal.
"Feels great being back in the semis. ... Haven't been here in the last couple years," the third-seeded Federer said. "So this is nice, to be back to a place where I've been so many times before."
He's two wins away from a seventh Wimbledon championship, which would equal a mark set by William Renshaw in the 1880s — back when the defending champion received a bye directly into the final — and tied by Pete Sampras in 2000.
Nothing worked for Youzhny, including a kidding plea for help from eight-time major champion Andre Agassi, who was seated next to his wife, Steffi Graf, in the front row of the Royal Box, near Prince William and his wife, Kate.
"I know I'm playing really well," Federer said. "I am aware things are going to get complicated in the next match."
That's because he'll face a familiar foe Friday: No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, who didn't have too much trouble while beating No. 31 Florian Mayer of Germany 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
This will be the sixth semifinal in the past eight Grand Slam tournaments, and 27th meeting overall, for Federer and Djokovic, and their first at Wimbledon.
Federer leads 14-12, but Djokovic won six of their last seven matches, including at the French Open a month ago.
"There's no secrets with those guys. They know how to play each other," said Federer's coach, Paul Annacone. "So it's really going to be who plays the bigger points better."
The other men's semifinal will be No. 4 Andy Murray of Britain against No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
Neither has won a Grand Slam title or been to a Wimbledon final.
Cue "Murray Mania," as it's known around these parts. He is trying to become the first British man to earn the trophy at the All England Club since Fred Perry in 1936; the last to even make it to the title match was Bunny Austin in 1938.
"If you think too much about it, and you read the newspapers and you watch the stuff on TV that's said about you, I think it would become far too much," Murray said. "But if you kind of shield yourself from it all and kind of just get into your own little bubble, only listen to the people that are around you, then it's something you can deal with."
He was one point from facing a two-set deficit before coming back to eliminate No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (4) to get to the semifinals for the fourth year in a row. Murray lost at that stage to Andy Roddick in 2009, then to Rafael Nadal in 2010 and 2011 — and No. 2 Nadal's stunning exit in the second round last week ratcheted up expectations this would be Murray's year.
"Subconsciously, I'm probably extremely stressed out right now," Murray said, "but I try not to feel it."
A basketball fan, he likened his situation to that of LeBron James, who recently won his first NBA championship with the Miami Heat after twice losing in the finals.
"I've been close a lot of times and not quite made it. Just have to keep putting myself in the position, and hopefully it will click," said Murray, the runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2008, and the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011. "There's a lot of people that said he would never win. ... Sometimes it takes guys a bit longer than others."
Tsonga, a finalist at the 2008 Australian Open, got to his second consecutive Wimbledon semifinal by defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
He's 1-5 against Murray, including a loss at Wimbledon two years ago.
In the women's semifinals Thursday, 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams plays No. 2-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland faces No. 8 Angelique Kerber of Germany. Williams is a four-time Wimbledon winner; none of the other three women has reached the final. The 30-year-old American is trying to become the first woman at least that age to win any major title since Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1990.
Federer, who turns 31 on Aug. 8, has gone 2½ years without adding to his record total of 16 Grand Slam titles. And he hasn't won Wimbledon since 2009, losing to Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals two years ago, then Tsonga in the quarterfinals last year after taking the first two sets.
If he wins Sunday's final to end his major trophy drought, the Swiss star would overtake Djokovic in the rankings and tie Sampras' record of 186 weeks at No. 1.
"He definitely wants to prove himself — and to everybody else — that he can win it once again," Djokovic said. "We both have to play at our best in order to get a win."
The Serb is 43-2 with five titles at the last seven majors, with one loss to Federer and one to Nadal, both at the French Open.
"He showed why he's the best player right now in the world. He left me no chance in the second set," Mayer said. "Roger also has to play on a really high level to have a chance to beat Novak."
Undisturbed by whipping wind or passing rain, Federer certainly looked good against Youzhny, who's seen this act before: Federer has won all 14 of their matchups.
In the fourth round, Federer needed a medical timeout to get treatment for an aching back. Didn't seem to be a problem at all Wednesday, when he won 49 of 66 service points.
"However it feels, if he plays like this, I'll take that any day of the week," said Annacone, who also coached Sampras.
By the end of the second set, two-time U.S. Open semifinalist Youzhny was screaming at himself in Russian or throwing his arms aloft in mock celebration after winning the occasional point.
After Federer flicked one particularly impressive defensive backhand and got to break point in the third set's opening game, Youzhny turned with his palms up to seek suggestions from Agassi, who smiled back. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge applauded. Youzhny, apparently pleased to play the role of court jester, promptly double-faulted.
When a reporter made a tongue-in-cheek remark about in-match coaching being against the rules, Youzhny grinned and said: "If he helped me, I'm ready to pay a fine."
Djokovic, at 25 the youngest quarterfinalist, seems to know exactly what to do against Federer, the oldest.
Into his ninth consecutive major semifinal, a streak that ranks fourth behind Federer's record 23, Djokovic never had won a grass-court title until a year ago at Wimbledon.
That success, and his tremendous two-year run, fuel Djokovic's confidence going into Friday's matchup.
"We never played on grass," Djokovic noted, "so I think it's going to be interesting for both of us to see what happens."
For the rest of us, too.
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