The 24-year-old Federer lost only one set on the way to his third Wimbledon title two months ago, and that also was against Kiefer, who gives him tough matches but can’t quite win. Federer has beaten the German six straight times, four of them this year.

After losing the second-set tiebreaker when he netted a backhand half-volley, Federer found himself in difficulty at 3-3 in the third when he faced double break point at 15-40. His answer: a 120 mph service winner to save one break point, a brilliant backhand crosscourt pass to save another. Kiefer made two errors after that and his opportunity was gone.

“That game was huge, absolutely,” Federer said. “I was not so happy the way I was playing, especially in the second set. Third was getting better, especially after that pass. I really felt that shift in momentum. I took advantage of that. In the fourth set, I started to feel like I’m really in control again where I didn’t feel that way at all before. I had the feeling actually momentum was all on his side.”

Like an artist standing back to admire his work, Federer watched a replay on the giant screen of the backhand pass that saved break point.

“I knew the moment I hit it that the ball is going to be in,” he said. “I knew that he’s not going to be there, and I knew that I’m back in the game, back in the match. I knew the importance of that shot. It was important from then to hold and not let it slip away. So I did well there.”

As dominant as Federer has been on grass the past few years, he’s no less the ruler of hard courts. He’s won 32 straight matches on the surface and is 42-1 on it this year, his lone loss coming in January against Marat Safin in the Australian Open semifinals. Overall this year, Federer is 68-3.

“Federer’s play, for him, is like a B, B-plus, which for anyone else is an A-plus,” McEnroe said. “For him, he hasn’t really played as well as he’s capable of. He’s been unsettled a couple of times. Today was one of those matches. Sometimes you don’t play your best, but the real champions win when they’re not playing their real best.”

AP-ES-09-06-05 2226EDT


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