Federer, Roddick maintain final form

Top two men's seeds finish rain-delayed semifinals, will meet today for title

Wimbledon

July 04, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England - What each wants is to test the other. Andy Roddick wants to see if his growing confidence, wildly spectacular second serve and steadying backhand can pierce the flurry of perfection that has become Roger Federer on grass tennis courts.

Federer wants to be challenged, needs to be pushed to further greatness, longs for a worthy opponent on what is now his sacred ground, Centre Court at Wimbledon.

It took defending champion Federer only 29 minutes yesterday to finish off his rain-delayed semifinal victory over 10th-seeded Sebastien Grosjean, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6).

No. 1 and No. 2 will meet today in the Wimbledon men's final for the first time since 1982.

Grosjean has flair and a flashy repertoire of clever shots. He even broke Federer's serve once, which had happened only one other time this Wimbledon fortnight. But top-seeded Federer, who won his 23rd consecutive match on grass, was more often toying with Grosjean. Even when Federer got behind in the tiebreak 4-0, he was not lacking confidence.

Match point was finished off with a smashing wallop, a rare bit of raw power from the man who prefers elegant, pretty but swift ends by soft volley or piercing backhand.

Roddick, who will play his first Wimbledon final on the Fourth of July, needed more time and some drama to finish off his 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory over unseeded 20-year-old Croatian Mario Ancic.

When Friday evening's final rainstorm pulled Roddick and Ancic off the court, Roddick was holding both good fortune and bad. The second-seeded American had won the first set and earned a service break in the second. But he had also put himself in a deficit on his own serve, down 30-40. Immediately yesterday, Ancic returned a Roddick serve and smashed a winner to even the set.

Roddick claimed he was musically impaired on that serve. There is daily entertainment provided just inside the gates near Court 1 where Roddick and Ancic were playing.

"The band started playing, literally started playing as soon as I tossed the ball up and I just Jonesed the serve because I had no idea what was going on," Roddick said. "I felt like they started the Fourth of July a little early."

Two games later Roddick double-faulted to give Ancic a set point, and Ancic capitalized with a winning backhand return.

There was a 45-minute rain delay in the third set with Ancic having just held serve to lead 5-4 and a second rain delay of 21 minutes after Roddick won the third set with an ace. And that, finally, finished the rain for the day.

Ancic's last chance came in the eighth game of the fourth set when he had a break point. Roddick put an emphatic end to that with an ace. The final moments of the match for Ancic came in the 11th game. Ancic gave Roddick two break points with the help of a double fault in which his racket flew from his hand. The Croatian saved one with a service winner, but another double fault gave Roddick the break he needed.

Federer, 22, who added the Australian Open title in January, has a 5-1 record over Roddick. Included is a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3 drubbing of Roddick last year in the Wimbledon semifinals. This hasn't dissuaded Roddick from relishing this Centre Court battle.

"The whole thing about pro sports," Roddick said, "is you want to measure yourself up against the best and try to be the best."

Federer has played five of his six matches so far on Centre Court, but Roddick has been on the hallowed ground only once this year. "That's not an advantage for me," Roddick said. "I figured I'd get on there more than once before the final. But I'm going to get out there and I'm going to give it a go."

Americans have won the past four men's finals played on the Fourth of July. "It's going to be pretty cool," Roddick said. "It's a pretty cool coincidence."

Men's tennis is aching for a new rivalry to fill the space left by the retirement of Pete Sampras and the gradual decline of Andre Agassi, and Federer-Roddick may be it. They have been ranked first and second, in some order, since last year. They have combined to win 21 titles since the beginning of last year (12 for Federer). But this is the first time they have met in a tournament final.

They are different in personality and style. Federer is quiet in his manner and in his game, which was described by several commentators last week, including Boris Becker and Pat Cash, as being at least the equal of Sampras on grass and maybe better.

"Last year's grass season was just incredible," Federer said. "I thought, `Well, I've got so many points to defend [on grass], I hope I can just at least play well at Wimbledon.' I started. Now I've hardly lost a serve, hardly lost a set. For me, it's very difficult to explain why and how it comes."

Roddick got quickly to the heart of the difference in their games. "He's more flash, feel, artistry," Roddick said, adding that his one advantage is how hard he hits the ball. "That's pretty much what I'm going to have to do."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

No. 1 vs. No. 2

Results of Wimbledon men's finals between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Open era (1968-present):

1972: No. 1 Stan Smith def. No. 2 Ilie Nastase, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

1977: No. 2 Bjorn Borg def. No. 1 Jimmy Connors, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

1978: No. 1 Bjorn Borg def. No. 2 Jimmy Connors, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

1980: No. 1 Bjorn Borg def. No. 2 John McEnroe, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6.

1981: No. 2 John McEnroe def. No. 1 Bjorn Borg, 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (4), 6-4.

1982: No. 2 Jimmy Connors def. No. 1 John McEnroe, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-4.

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