Centre Court roof shuts after hot Federer show

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Wimbledon tennis …

LONDON, England (Reuters) – Roger Federer remained the epitome of cool, Venus and Serena Williams hurtled towards another final showdown and Centre Court’s new roof finally closed as showers interrupted a heatwave at Wimbledon.

After the mercury had shot past 30 degrees to herald the tournament’s second Monday, grey clouds rolled in, raindrops fell and world number one Dinara Safina fought back to beat former champion Amelie Mauresmo in the first competitive match to be played under the gleaming canopy.

Safina was leading 4-1 in the second set, having dropped the first, when tournament referee Andrew Jarrett made the call to close the roof, a decision greeted with cheers from the crowd inside the 15 000-seat arena.

After a 40-minute break while the air conditioning system kicked in, the Russian returned to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 despite trailing 3-0 in the decider.

“It was an unbelievable atmosphere on the court,” Safina, who will play unfancied German Sabine Lisicki in her first Wimbledon quarter-final, told reporters.

Five-time champion Federer, bidding for his own slice of history by winning a record 15th grand slam, nailed Sweden’s Robin Soderling, the man he beat in this month’s French Open final. In scorching temperatures the Swiss won what he later described as a “serving contest” 6-4, 7-6, 7-6.

“Not many rallies, so maybe not as much fun for the people. But I stayed calm, waited for my chance, and thank God I came up with a good forehand when I had to in the breaker,” Federer, told reporters after his fourth round, one of 16 singles matches on a mouth-watering schedule.

With forecasters predicting even higher temperatures in the coming days in south west London, the Williams sisters, who have faced each other three times in the women’s singles final here, were able to conserve precious energy.

Second seed Serena, beaten in last year’s final by her older sister, thrashed Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-1 while Venus was required to play just eight games to get past sobbing Serb Ana Ivanovic, who quit with a thigh injury after little more than half an hour on Court One.

“I think she was in a lot of pain,” the 29-year-old Venus, gunning for a hat-trick of singles titles here and her sixth in total, told reporters. “I’m one of those players who only pay attention to what’s going on on my side of the net. But today I felt really sad for her actually.”

Impressive fourth seed Elena Dementieva, a semi-finalist last year, polished off fellow Russian Elena Vesnina while Italy’s Francesca Schiavone beat Virginie Razzano of France.

There is a sense of inevitability about another Williams family showdown on Saturday. They simply look unstoppable.

“I’m a control freak,” added Venus who now has Agnieszka Radwanska in her sights after the Pole ended the run of 17-year-old American Melanie Oudin 6-4, 7-5. “I love controlling. That’s how I was taught to play.”

“I don’t want to go home. I feel I’m just getting more serious,” added Serena, who belted 28 winners on her way to a quarter-final against Belarussian Victoria Azarenka.

While fans sizzled up on a packed Henman Hill, waiting to watch home hope Andy Murray take on Stanislas Wawrinka on the giant screen, they watched an ominous Federer masterclass that would have made them all a little twitchy.

SERIOUS CONTENDERS
The 22-year-old Murray, bidding to become Britain’s first men’s singles champion here since Fred Perry in 1936, is favourite to meet Federer in Sunday’s final but Federer is setting the bar high after nailing Soderling, the man who ended Rafael Nadal’s 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.

The Swede is equipped with a huge serve and whiplash forehand but as in the French Open final this month he found the 14-time grand slam champion too hot at the vital moments.

Soderling only dropped serve once, but he could only offer a wry smile when, serving at 5-4 in the third-set tiebreak and with Federer in a corner, he watched a forehand dip into the extreme corner of the court. Two points later it was all over.

Federer will need body armour in the next round when he takes on towering Croat Ivo Karlovic who took his ace tally for the tournament to 137 in a four-set defeat of Spain’s Fernando Verdasco to reach his first grand slam quarter-final.

Germany’s Tommy Haas, the oldest player in the last 16, reached the last eight for the first time, outwitting Russia’s Igor Andreev 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, to set up a quarter-final against fourth seed Novak Djokovic, who beat Israel’s Dudi Sela.

Lleyton Hewitt, who like Haas has fought back from serious injury, produced the comeback of the day to delight his vocal fans. The 2002 champion looked to be heading out before hitting back to win 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2.

Hewitt meets American Andy Roddick for a semi-final spot after the American’s surprisingly straightforward straight-sets removal of dangerous Czech Tomas Berdych.