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LONDON – Chants of "Roger! Roger! Roger!" filled the early evening air at the All England Club, so after his post-match stretch, Roger Federer paused on a bridge connected to Centre Court and waved to his adoring public.
"When you see that they're there for you, it's a bit of an unusual feeling. I'm very touched, actually, to have so much support," Federer said. "I never would have imagined when I was younger that I would have experienced this."
Less than a month from his 36th birthday, Federer is still giving 'em what they want. When Wimbledon began, Federer and the rest of the Big 4 — Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal — had accounted for each of the past 14 men's singles championships. Now, as the tournament heads to the semifinals on Friday, only Federer remains.
Call him the Big 1.
"It's nice to see different guys, maybe, but I'm happy that my dream run continues," Federer said, "and we'll now see what happens next."
Federer's path through the draw has been impressive, to say the least.
He has won every set he's played this fortnight, the only semifinalist who can make that claim.
He has won 63 of 66 service games. He has faced only 14 break points. He has made only 49 unforced errors, fewer than 10 per match.
So the first question put to 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic after his 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (4) loss to the seven-time Wimbledon champion in the quarterfinals Wednesday was: What does a guy have to do to beat Federer?
"You know, you have to do a lot. It's a stiff task," said Raonic, who defeated Federer in the semifinals last year before losing to Murray in the final. "I guess you can know what you have to do. It's a lot harder to do it than just to know it."
He's hardly the first to realize that, of course.
After being eliminated by Raonic a year ago, Federer took the rest of the season off to allow his surgically repaired left knee to heal properly. He already had missed last year's French Open in May, ending a record streak of 65 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam tournaments, and then skipped the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and U.S. Open, too.
When Federer returned in January, he was fit and full of energy, and won his 18th major championship at the Australian Open.
That was part of a 19-1, three-title start to 2017, before he took another break, sitting out the clay-court circuit and the French Open again.
"I could never really play quite so freely last year just because (now) I'm more focused on how the knee's behaving, rather than how I need to hit my forehand or backhand or what's not going to be good for my opponent," Federer said. "This year, I'm just a normal tennis player again, where I can focus on tactics. I think that's the difference. I'm playing very well. I'm rested. I'm fresh. I'm confident, too. Then great things do happen."
Such as becoming the oldest Wimbledon semifinalist since 1974.
Perhaps his rivals at the top of the game should take note.
Djokovic, a three-time champion at the All England Club, did say he would think about taking time away from the tour because of an injured right elbow that became so painful Wednesday he stopped in the second set of his quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych.
Murray, who won Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, will consider an extended absence, too, after his sore left hip clearly hampered him while being beaten 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinals by Sam Querrey.
"We both had a very long, very tough year, a lot of matches, a lot of emotions, a lot of things in play," Djokovic said. "Our bodies have taken a lot physically."
While No. 3-seeded Federer will face No. 11 Berdych next, and No. 24 Querrey — the first U.S. man in a Grand Slam semifinal since 2009 — meets No. 7 Marin Cilic, No. 1 Murray and No. 2 Djokovic are done at Wimbledon this year.
So is No. 4 Nadal, a two-time champion who lost in the fourth round.
"Of course I'm surprised," Federer said, "to see them going out."
No one should be surprised that he is sticking around.
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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