Historic hat-trick puts Federer up with legends of the game

As this proceeded, for an hour and 41 minutes, a colleague in the press seats wanted to know whom the Swiss maestro was most like. He settled for an amalgam of Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, Ilie Nastase - but with Bjorn Borg's concentration - and a little bit of Ken Rosewell thrown in as well.

It was a pointless exercise. Federer is like Federer and nobody else. In times hence, if the sport is exceedingly fortunate, people will be asking if some new wizard with a racket is a bit like Federer.

"I really played a fantastic match, perhaps the best of my life," Federer said, with no reason for false modesty after beating Roddick, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4. There were tears after his triumph - tears of joy, pride, and relief - as there were after he won his first title here against Mark Philippoussis in 2003. "And I can tell you I cried last year, too," he said.

The 23-year-old has already accumulated an impressive catalogue of numbers. Along with his Wimbledon hat-trick he has won Grand Slam singles at both the Australian Open and the US Open. His win against Roddick advanced his unbeaten sequence of grass-court matches to 36. He has won his last 21 ATP Tour finals on all surfaces, losing three times in 78 matches.

Moreover, this complete player, whose three consecutive Wimbledons puts him alongside Sampras, Borg and Fred Perry, sees room for improvement, particularly on the backhand that looked anything but weak wing as he whisked the ball past Roddick.

Roddick might not have unsettled Federer yesterday, but he did take the opening set of their final last year. Only Germany's Nicolas Kiefer, in the third round, was able to take a set off Federer in this year's campaign. He has dropped only four in total in 21 matches in the last three years on the Wimbledon lawns.

Having extended his domination of Lleyton Hewitt, the third seed, in the semi-finals to eight matches in a row, Federer demonstrated yesterday why he also "owns" Roddick, who has only defeated him once in their 10 meetings.

He was eager yesterday to start the match confidently and not allow Roddick to establish himself as the American did in the first set last year. After the protagonists had sparred in the opening five games, Federer cut loose and broke for 4-2.

He passed Roddick with a backhand down the line to 30-40. Roddick erased the break point with a forehand volley behind a second serve. Federer created a second opportunity with a forehand drive off his opponent's smash, and Roddick hit a forehand long after Federer returned his serve. Federer, smoothly into his game, secured the set after only 22 minutes with a second break in the eighth game, passing Roddick with a cross-court backhand return of a 122 mph serve.

Roddick, undismayed, broke for 2-1 in the second set, with a forehand drive that Federer could only volley into the net, and held his lead until the sixth game. Federer then created two break points, making light of Roddick's backhand volley with a forehand pass down the line. The American hit a backhand long on the first break point.

Determination enabled Roddick to salvage two set points with service winners at 5-4 down and he was able to take the set to a tie-break from deuce on his serve in the 12th game.

Federer won the first three points of the shoot-out before beckoning Roddick with two less-than-sharp service points. That was as far as Roddick was allowed to advance, Federer taking the next four points in a row for 7-2.

Wimbledon would be nothing without tradition, and Alan Mills, the referee, and Chris Gorringe, the chief executive, presided over one last rain delay before receiving their retirement gifts. On this occasion, the tarpaulin was on and off in 25 minutes.

When the players returned, there was little change in tactics. Roddick, two sets to love down, had to continue taking risks in an attempt to break Federer's concentration and, more importantly, his serve.

Try though he did, Roddick again found that some of his best moves were merely a prelude to Federer's next display of magic. That came on Roddick's serve in the opening point of the seventh game, when Federer clipped an angled backhand and glided across the court to meet Roddick's backhand volley with a backhand pass down the line.

When the applause died down, Federer also took the second point, leaving his opponent with little option but to try and play a shot through his legs, which achieved no reward but amused the spectators.

Federer's backhand drive created two break points. Roddick served away the first but was passed on the second with yet another cross-court backhand as Federer made the decisive break. Afterwards he related his thoughts as he was serving for the treble: "I got nervous. I missed my first serve, then hit an ace on second serve because he took the wrong side. I felt my arm shaking. After he came back to 30-15, I thought, 'Why now?' I was really nervous - I just hit [my serve] as hard as I could at 40-15."


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