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Federer discovers how tennis' other half lives

He can't complete match against Ferrero because of rain. Nadal advances with five-set win.

July 06, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Proving that he still existed, Roger Federer emerged from behind the green wall and reappeared on Centre Court on Thursday, his six-day absence having epitomized this weirdest of Wimbledons.

Idle since Friday while No. 2 Rafael Nadal took the court every playing day, Federer walked in with quarterfinal opponent Juan Carlos Ferrero following just behind. The audience quit chitchatting and applauded.

As in the gauzy memories of last month, Federer redefined dapper in his cream-colored jacket and matching warmup trousers. He set down his bags. He removed the jacket and sat down briefly. The clock showed 3:02 p.m., a mere 138 hours 38 minutes since he walked out on Friday night, June 29.

Back then, when everyone at this rain-ravaged Wimbledon was so much younger, Federer finished off Marat Safin and reached the fourth round. Then Tommy Haas' torn stomach muscle commanded Federer into the quarterfinals. Then the dogged, intermittent rain mangled the schedule.

Now came the Swiss virtuoso whom English fans deem a privilege to watch. Federer served to Ferrero, held service after trailing love-30, produced some usual oohs and aahs, led 5-2, seemingly got nervous, sprayed errors, became tied 5-5 and stood to serve at deuce.

Then, the unlikely stars of Wimbledon 2007: the tarp guys!

Rain returned, and the "court-coverers," as Wimbledon calls them, materialized all around Federer, ignoring the king as they scrambled for the tarp.

Epitomizing the tournament further, Federer walked off 47 minutes after his reappearance, but now with a taste of what has maddened the world's top tennis brigades.

Three leaky hours later, Wimbledon officials deemed the day kaput, postponing Federer plus all of Andy Roddick's quarterfinal with Richard Gasquet of France.

At a stage when the men usually await their semifinals, they'd barely finished the bottom half of their fourth round. They'd christened fresh quarterfinalists in Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Marcos Baghdatis and Tomas Berdych.

Nadal had blasted out of trouble to beat No. 14 seed Mikhail Youzhny, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

"Grass is not my worst surface for sure, no?" Nadal said. "Play in the final last year, quarterfinals this year, quarterfinals two times in Queen's. So I like a lot playing on grass, no?"

A clay-court juggernaut who suddenly turned up in the Wimbledon final last year, Nadal had played for parts of Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday trying to finish his third-round match with Robin Soderling. He'd played only 22 minutes in wrapping up the fifth set Wednesday, but faced both mental fatigue and the prospect of playing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Two sets in against the rugged Youzhny, Nadal seemed Mallorca-bound -- that's his home -- but then Youzhny's chronic back problems and Nadal's chronic will flared simultaneously.

"Problems, big disbalance between left side and right side in my back," Youzhny said.

"I just play aggressive, moving faster the legs," Nadal said. "Better movements all time. Every ball, always try to do something. Every time when I touch the ball, I ... try to put the ball close to the lines every time."

Djokovic, the French Open semifinalist ranked No. 5 and widely believed top-three-bound, was able to hold off Lleyton Hewitt, 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), for his largest grass-court win to date.

Make it two straight quarterfinal showings for the Cypriot Baghdatis, who ran out Nikolai Davydenko in three sets for a slot opposite Djokovic.

Make it a first quarterfinal in any Grand Slam for Berdych, who ran off that old war horse Jonas Bjorkman in four sets to face Nadal, the grass-court maven who is 0-3 against Berdych on hard surfaces.

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