Grosjean out to challenge Federer's dominance

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The Independent Online

At the ripe old age of 26, Sébastien Grosjean is the most senior player in today's semi-finals. His opponent, Roger Federer, is the lord of all he surveys, aged 22. In the bottom half of the draw, Andy Roddick, 21, takes on Mario Ancic, 20.

At the ripe old age of 26, Sébastien Grosjean is the most senior player in today's semi-finals. His opponent, Roger Federer, is the lord of all he surveys, aged 22. In the bottom half of the draw, Andy Roddick, 21, takes on Mario Ancic, 20.

Grosjean has seen it all before. Specifically, he featured in a similar semi-final line-up here last year when he, Federer and Roddick were accompanied at this stage by Mark Philippoussis. Federer beat Roddick to reach the final. Grosjean, a crafty Marseillais with a cellar-load of bottle, went down in flames to Australia's Scud in fine form.

"Too good," was the essence of Grosjean's post-match analysis then. He can expect déjà vu today. Unless it rains, of course. On the form that the Swiss Federer has shown so far, only the weather will delay his receipt of a second Wimbledon title.

"Federer is the best player in the tournament, especially on grass," Grosjean said on Wednesday evening after his straight-sets win over Florian Mayer in the quarter-finals. "But I have nothing to lose and anything can happen in the semis. I'll just go out to enjoy the match."

That could yet be "mismatch". Most matches on grass involving Federer in the last 14 months have been. He is on a 22-match unbeaten Swiss roll on the surface. As Lleyton Hewitt said after losing in four sets to Federer in the quarter-finals here the evening before last: "Against the best players in the world - and today, against the best player in the world, you've got to take your chances when you get them. I couldn't do that."

Hewitt, returning to decent form, did not play badly. The fact that he took a set from Federer was testament to that. It was the first Federer had conceded on grass since last year's third round.

Every aspect of Federer's game is being played at a higher level. His serving has been absolutely exceptional. When Hewitt forced a solitary break on Wednesday, it ended a 105-game unbroken service run for Federer here, dating back to last year. He responded by breaking back immediately and closing out the match within minutes.

In the course of the match he served 19 aces, three service winners and not a single double fault. He won 71 per cent of his first-service points. His all-round game was a delight to watch. Almost every one of his 50 winners was greeted with an awe-struck chorus of "ooohs" and "aaahs". If Grosjean saw the highlights later, he probably joined in.

The Frenchman, who has lost all three of his previous Grand Slam semi-finals, is not without a chance today. Looking at his game under a microscope, it consists of two parts: his shot-making and his mental stamina. He, like Federer, is capable of exquisite placement, verging on the cheeky.

He also has the capacity to dig himself out of tricky situations. And, as the vanquished Tim Henman discovered in last year's quarter-finals, Grosjean thrives on grass.

The last person to beat Grosjean on grass was Roddick, in the final at Queen's last month. In an uncanny match-up in today's other semi-final, Roddick plays Mario Ancic, who was the last person to beat Federer on grass. The Croat did so here two years ago, as an 18-year-old.

It was no flash in the pan, as Ancic's subsequent development has proved. Roddick should not expect an easy ride against a powerful 6ft 4in athlete who not only serves big and hits massive groundstrokes but has a deftness of touch, including around the net, that belies his size.

The "Goran factor" is also on the Croat's side, with Goran Ivanisevic providing as much support and advice as his protégé Ancic wishes to accept. The Centre Court crowds, who have always had such affection for the 2001 winner, Ivanisevic, are also likely to be behind Ancic, despite his status as the man who shot Bambi by beating Henman on Wednesday.

The additional fact that Ancic has advanced further than ever before at a Grand Slam event will also gain him underdog support. He had previously not been beyond the fourth round at a major.

"Ancic is playing great on grass," Roddick said in anticipation of their meeting. "I don't know what it is with all the tall, skinny Croats serving big. He's definitely going to be tough."

Roddick's one previous meeting with Ancic, which came en route to his successful Stella Artois defence last month, did not all go his own way. Ancic took the middle set of three and will be all the more dangerous with five Wimbledon matches under his belt.

For Roddick's part, his formidable serve is better than ever. He set a Wimbledon speed record (146mph) in his quarter-final victory over Sjeng Schalken. Let the fireworks, and artistry, begin.



Three previous meetings: Grosjean leads 2-1.

2001 Sydney, quarter-final (hard), Grosjean wins 7-5, 6-4.

2001 Rotterdam, last 16 (hard), Federer 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

2001 Monte Carlo, quarter-final (clay), Grosjean 6-4, 6-3.


One previous meeting: Roddick leads 1-0

2004 Queen's, last 16 (grass) Roddick 7-6, 4-6, 6-4.