Federer wakes up to see off Roddick

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The Independent Online

Last time the top two seeds met in the men's singles final before yesterday, in 1982, Jimmy Connors defeated John McEnroe. We do not have turbulent characters like them in the sport these days. What we do have are magnificent athletes with awesome power, including Roger Federer, who also happens to be one of the finest players ever to hold a racket.

Last time the top two seeds met in the men's singles final before yesterday, in 1982, Jimmy Connors defeated John McEnroe. We do not have turbulent characters like them in the sport these days. What we do have are magnificent athletes with awesome power, including Roger Federer, who also happens to be one of the finest players ever to hold a racket.

Federer, however, was far from sublime for much of yesterday's final, in which he made a successful defence of the title, defeating Andy Roddick, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4, after two and a half hours.

Sometimes he hit shots others can only dream of making. At other times he was his own worst nightmare. Fortunately for him and for the sake of those who had come to marvel again at his artistry - but not for Roddick - Federer woke up before the end of the second set.

Connors, the No 2 seed here 22 years ago, triumphed. Roddick could only come a close second. But the 21-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, Marlon Brando's home town, is more than a contender. Since losing to Federer in straight sets in last year's semi-finals, he has won the US Open and has improved the method of his performance behind a massive serve.

There were clear signs yesterday that contests between Federer and Roddick, like those between McEnroe and Connors, are going to be a staple of the game - although, as Roddick remarked: "You have to start winning for it to be called a rivalry. Roger just played too good today. I threw the kitchen sink at him, but he went to the bathroom and got himself a tub."

The fact is that Roddick has only beaten Federer once in seven matches, gaining his victory on a rubberised concrete court in Montreal last summer en route to his success at the US Open in New York. He has, however, won the Stella Artois Championships on the lawns of Queen's Club for the last two years, and has brought his form into Wimbledon.

For a while yesterday it seemed that he had met Federer at precisely the right moment. Federer is not often broken when playing on grass, especially at Wimbledon, and when he is, he usually strikes back immediately. That was not the case yesterday. Tentative at the start, in contrast to Roddick, who only lacked steam pouring from his ears and hit one ace at 145 mph, Federer lost his serve as early as the third game, hitting a drive long.

That might have been no more than a blip had Federer converted any of the four break points he created in the next game. But his timing was off, and Roddick's nerve held.

When the first of the two rain breaks arrived after 16 minutes, Roddick was leading, 3-2. Play resumed after 36 minutes, but Federer still lacked momentum and continued to make errors, particularly on the backhand. He appeared not to trust himself to deviate from the conservative, even when serving, staying back more often than not.

Roddick was not even taken to deuce in the next five games, securing the set after 31 minutes. No sooner had spectators stopped asking each other, "What's wrong with Federer?", than the question was on their lips again midway through the second set. How was it possible for the best player in the world to take a 4-0 lead and then be hauled back to 4-4?

At the outset of the championships, Federer said that before his matches he tries to visualise the best-and-worst-case scenarios, so that he is prepared for either eventuality. He probably did not imagine that the scraping sound of a BBC camera being shifted at the back of the court as he was about to serve would be part of his darker moments. But he did know that he would be in deep trouble if he encouraged the American to fire himself up.

Federer began to douse Roddick in the 12th game of the second set, capitalising on the luck of a net cord that took him to break point by converting it with the flourish of a running forehand pass down the line to level the match with a cry of, "Yes!"

The drama continued with Roddick breaking for 2-1 in the third set, and he was leading, 4-2, when the rain sent then back to the locker rooms, this time for half an hour.

During this time, Federer decided it was time to serve-and-volley rather than stay back and wait for Roddick to miss. Federer held for 3-4 and broke back to 4-4 by returning a serve timed at 137 mph.

When it came to a tie-break, which was over after five minutes, Federer's resolve was strong. He gained two mini-breaks for 5-2, lost one of them, then cracked Roddick with a glorious backhand pass down the line on the first set point.

Roddick was not subdued. Although his serve was no longer promising to create new speed records for him, he was holding comfortably for most of the fourth set and causing Federer anguish with his returns. Th e champion had to save three break points in the fourth game and two more in the sixth.

Federer asserted himself in the seventh game, breaking to love, and remained in control. He served out for the title with an ace on his first match point at 5-4.

Asked why he had struggled so much, Federer said: "It was the combination of Andy playing really well and not allowing me to play the way I wanted. He was hitting very hard off both sides and deep to the baseline. All I could do was block the ball back. I couldn't even slice. In the beginning he was serving second serves at 120 mph. In the end, he was hitting them at 100 mph, to get more kick off them, which I preferred a little bit."

Relieved to have worked his way through a difficult day, Federer resolved to make improvements. "It's always been my dream to play better at the net," he said. And there we were, thinking he was the player who had everything.

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