WIMBLEDON, England -- The tennis played by Andy Murray and David Ferrer was exquisitely quirky but also filled with the big-boy points in which the power generated by groundstrokes might have lighted up Centre Court if the Wimbledon powers ever felt as if night tennis was something to be admired.
But although Murray, the dour Scotsman who groans and grunts and howls and gives the crowd a deeply personal look into his every mood, which changes on about every point, won the best-played match of the day over seventh-seeded Spaniard Ferrer, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (4), it was the results of two blowouts that most captivated the lovers of tennis.
Roger Federer, who lost in the quarterfinal rounds played on Wednesday the last two years — losses that fed speculation that Federer would not win a 17th major title — moved into his eighth Wimbledon semifinal with a dispassionate dismantling of 26th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, on Centre Court in 1 hour 32 minutes.
Playing at almost the same time on Court 1, top-seeded and defending champion Novak Djokovic was almost as dominant against an equally overmatched opponent with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 win over 31st-seeded German Florian Mayer in 1:45.
The 30-year-old Federer is aiming for his seventh Wimbledon title, which would tie him with Willie Renshaw, who played long ago and when there wasn't much competition, and Pete Sampras, who Federer has often said was the player he most admired and whose coach, Paul Annacone, is now Federer's mentor.
If he is to get it, Federer will have to beat Djokovic in a semifinal on Friday. For the last 18 months, the No. 1-ranked Serb has been the winner of four majors, unable only to conquer clay court at the French Open. Last year, Federer beat Djokovic in the semifinals and this year Nadal beat him in the final.
Murray, trying to end an absence of British champions that dates to Fred Perry in 1936, will play Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal. "I've had a good run here the last few years, but I'm not satisfied with that," Murray said. "I want to try and go further."
Tsonga's willingness to treat his body as if were a rag doll, dropping and flopping to the ground in intrepid pursuit of just about any shot, ended the run of Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber with a 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2 win. It will be Tsonga's second consecutive Wimbledon semifinal, but he has not gotten further.
Though the local populace will be nervously waiting to see whether Murray can finally get past the semifinals, where he's plopped himself for the fourth straight time, it is the matchup between Federer and Djokovic that most intrigues.
Federer leads the 25-year-old Serb 14-12 in career meetings, but, as is often the way with an aging star and one in his prime, Federer has lost six of his last seven matches against Djokovic.
Possibly the most devastating was at the U.S. Open in 2011, when Federer held two match points on his serve in the fifth set but lost, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
But the two have never played on Wimbledon's grass, the place where Federer's precise tennis has been most rewarded.
"He definitely wants to prove himself and to everybody else that he can win it once again," Djokovic said. "We never played on grass, so we'll see how that is going to turn out. But maybe he uses the grass court better because of his slice. He has a really smart game for this surface."
Federer said he admires Djokovic's persistence. "With his ability, his shot-making, you know, the match is never over until the umpire calls the score."
If Federer is hoping his grass-court record and all those Wimbledon titles might intimidate Djokovic even a little, it might be a futile hope.
"I improved playing on grass in the last couple of years," Djokovic said. "I won a title here last year, have gotten to another semifinal this year, so I'm feeling good about this surface, about myself on the court."