Bjorkman Through to Federer Semi
©ProSport / T. Hindley
Wednesday, 5 July, 2006
Doubles specialist Jonas Bjorkman came through a tense match with Czech number 14 seed Radek Stepanek to reach the semi-finals of the men's singles and set up a Friday fixture with Roger Federer.
After a see-saw match, which featured three tie-breaks, the 34-year-old Swede celebrated his marathon 7-6(3),4-6,6-7(5),7-6(7),6-4 victory by skipping around the court and showing his appreciation for the crowd's support by 'hugging' them.
The oldest man in the last eight - and the second oldest to be competing at this year’s Championships - couldn’t quite believe that, as the unseeded underdog, he had survived to take on Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Of the four quarter-finals, the Stepanek v Bjorkman confrontation lacked the star appeal offered by the other three, but after just over four hours of play, the packed auditorium rose to acknowledge a hard-fought contest.
The fluctuating match saw Bjorkman in control early on, saving two break points in the opening game only to then have his momentum broken by a rain delay after just 11 minutes of play. Serving at 40-0 with a break when light drizzle arrived, they returned 90 minutes later for Bjorkman to finally secure a 3-0 lead.
Stepanek gained a foothold in the first set by holding serve and started to assert his own brand of attacking play. That bore fruit in the ninth game when he saved a set point and, by continuing to harass with his net play, levelled the match on his third break point as Bjorkman’s more cautious play produced a netted backhand.
Two games later, with the Czech now in full flow, the rains returned to enforce another suspension to play, a timely diversion for Bjorkman who was failing to find the lines with any consistency. Again, on resumption following a 56 minute stint in the dressing room, the set went into a tie-break where a refreshed Bjorkman regained some of his early form to take the set.
The loss of the first set acted as a spur and, with Bjorkman’s serve having lost its sting, Stepanek moved ahead 3-1 thanks to a double fault on his second break point. Now it was the 27-year-old Czech's turn to show his style, a backhand volley at full stretch with his back to the net eliciting a round of applause from the spectators.
He maintained the advantage but, much like his opponent in the first set, lost his way when attempting to serve out, a well executed lob cross court into the deuce corner bringing Bjorkman back level on serve. However, it was shortlived for he immediately conceded his own serve.
The two exchanged breaks in the third but inevitably, with Stepanek looking the more comfortable, another tie-break was required to separate them, and this time it ended in favour of Stepanek. But he squandered the chance of sealing the match in the fourth, delivering three double faults in his attempt to serve out, his 11th bringing Bjorkman back into contention.
He had another chance in the ensuing tie-break but lost it with a weak backhand, Bjorkman eventually capturing it 9-7 to take the match into a decider. The same pattern continued but now Bjorkman was playing with more control and once he had carved out two match points with a flashing backhand pass, he struck a serve which was returned weakly into the net.
Disappointment for Stepanek and his girlfriend Martina Hingis sitting in the players’ box, but the marathon man from the Czech Republic, who had been on court for eleven hours and 57 minutes prior to this contest, will have to be satisfied with having achieved his best run in a Grand Slam. As regards the victor, the prospect of a Grand Slam semi-final - on his own rather than the countless he has had with a partner beside him - will no doubt be uppermost in his mind.
Written by Henry Wancke