Roger Federer insisted yesterday that "tension always comes back for any Grand Slam final", but as he prepared for a match that could secure his place as the greatest player in tennis history, the Swiss looked as unruffled as the Centre Court grass on Monday morning 13 days ago. Victory over Andy Roddick in today's final would give Federer his 15th Grand Slam title, eclipsing Pete Sampras's all-time record, but when the five-times Wimbledon champion talked about the pressure of the occasion you wondered whether he was simply going through the motions.
"Knowing I only have one match to go definitely changes your mindset," he said. "You don't have to think of a possible match coming after that. I'll have a few weeks off, so I'll just try to give my very best. Records are part of this great match right now, so it's obviously even more of an incentive to try really hard."
While Federer has every respect for Roddick, particularly on grass, he has inflicted more defeats on the American than on any other player. They have met 20 times and Federer has lost only twice. Rafael Nadal is the only other player Federer has played as frequently and the Spaniard leads their head-to-head record 13-7.
Federer and Roddick have met seven times in Grand Slam tournaments, including the finals here in 2004 and 2005 and in the US Open in 2006, and the Swiss has won every time. Roddick's only victories were in Montreal six years ago and in Miami last year.
No wonder Federer said it was "great to see him back in a final". He added: "He has a lot of energy. He's very funny, very nice. As a player he's known for his incredible serve and intensity and fighting spirit. He never gives up. It hasn't been easy for him the last few years. Americans have a lot of expectations. They were spoiled with Sampras and Agassi and all those before that. For them, it's not good enough to have someone in the top 10. They want somebody who is No 1."
While Roddick is a more rounded player than he used to be, having worked on his backhand and fitness in particular, his thunderous serve is still what sets him apart. "I always said that the serve makes him so dangerous," Federer said. "No matter what surface you play him on, no matter how bad the record is for him, he'll always have that shot just because he can serve so great.
"It's hard to get a read on it. I've had times where I read it incredibly well. I couldn't believe how well I did read it. Then I had days when I didn't read it. That's the strength of a great serve. He not only has a great first serve, but probably has the best second serve in the game. That's what makes it hard to break him. He's improved his game again, I think, which was important for him – and necessary too. It's going to be a good test for me."
For Roddick the occasion is a reward for 12 months of hard work. After his second-round defeat here last year the American questioned whether he would ever get back to the top but he resolved to work harder than ever. Under the guidance of a new coach, Larry Stefanki, the world No 6 worked over the winter on improving those parts of his game that he felt were letting him down. At Stefanki's suggestion he also lost a stone in weight, which has improved his speed and mobility around the court.
Stefanki said: "When you lose in the second round in an event you feel like you can win, it really irritates you. It gets under your skin, and you don't forget that. He's prepared very diligently from 1 December on. He's very motivated. There's a lot of good things that can happen if he stays relaxed, because he's done all the hard work now. Now he's just got to trust himself and play ball."
Nevertheless it will be a huge surprise if today is not all about the man chasing his sixth Wimbledon title, which would leave him behind only William Renshaw and Sampras, who both won seven.
He will be the first player to contest a seventh successive Wimbledon final and the first man ever to play in 20 Grand Slam finals, beating the record he previously shared with Ivan Lendl. He has played in 16 of the last 17 Grand Slam finals and would become only the third man in the last 40 years to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles in the same year.
Federer makes history with almost every appearance at a Grand Slam tournament. His victory last month in the French Open, the one Grand Slam tournament where success had eluded him, appeared to take a great weight off his shoulders. And where better to beat Sampras's record than on his favourite court in the world?
Whatever the outcome, the next big occasion will be the birth of his first child following his marriage earlier this year to Mirka, his long-time girlfriend. Might his motivation dip when he becomes a father, especially if he has already broken Sampras's record? "Awaiting our first child is quite something on a personal note," he said. "I'm also playing wonderful tennis at the moment. Everything seems just great.
"But I'm not really worried about my motivation in any way, because I love this game too much. I'd like to stick around for a long time. Mirka's dream was always that our child would see me play, so there you go. And anyway, the 2012 Olympics here at Wimbledon is something I'm going to be a part of."
Federer: Path to the final
First round: beat Lu Yen-Hsun (Taiw) 7-5 6-3 6-2
Second round: beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Sp) 6-2 6-2 6-4
Third round: beat Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) 6-3 6-2 6-7 6-1
Fourth round: beat Robin Soderling (Swe) 6-4 7-6 7-6
Quarter-final: beat Ivo Karlovic (Croa) 6-3 7-5 7-6
Semi-final: beat Tommy Haas (Ger) 7-6 7-5 6-3
Roddick: Path to the final
First round: beat Jeremy Chardy (Fr) 6-3 7-6 4-6 6-3
second round: beat Igor Kunitsyn (Rus) 6-4 6-2 3-6 6-2
Third round: beat Jürgen Melzer (Ger) 7-6 7-6 4-6 6-3
Fourth round: beat Tomas Berdych (Cz Rep) 7-6 6-4 6-3
Quarter-final: beat Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 6-3 6-7 7-6 4-6 6-4
Semi-final: beat Andy Murray (GB) 6-4 4-6 7-6 7-6
Who will win the final and why?
Andy Murray (Beaten semi-finalist)
Obviously Roger is the favourite and if he plays his best and passes well then there's no reason why he can't win. He'll make Andy play but if Andy gives him chances, Roger is going to take them. Andy needs to serve very well, especially at the start of games, and not give Roger the chance to swing freely at balls.
Serena Williams (Ladies champion)
Well I'm American, so obviously I'm rooting for the American. But I think Roger is definitely the favourite – he has been playing so well here. But I love Andy, he's such a great person and a good friend of mine. Obviously I want to see him do well.
Boris Becker (Men's champion 1985, '86, '89)
Roger should win because he is the best grass-court player ever, but Roddick can do it. If he really goes for it hard and his serve is working well, he will be difficult to beat. He is a very different player to when he was previously in a final here – he is unbelievably fit now – and he has added shots to his armoury, in particular the volley.
Sam Smith (Former British No 1)
I think Roger will win, but not particularly easily. I'm really impressed with Roddick and how he has evolved from the crash-bang-wallop player he was the last time he was in a Wimbledon final. For him to win he has to keep Roger at the back and try to drag sets into tie-breaks because he has an awesome record in them.
Greg Rusedski (Former British No 1)
It's Roger all the way for me – he is sublime, the best ever. It's an almost impossible task to beat him and, with an 18-2 losing record, Roddick will have to serve out of his mind to have a chance. And the crowd will be on Roger's side – they will want to be there to watch history being made as he picks up his 15th Slam.
John Lloyd (Former British No 1)
I think Federer will win. Roddick will have a shot if he serves at 75 per cent again as he did with Andy Murray. But Federer returns so well and has an 18-2 advantage and that must be in the back of Roddick's mind if he doesn't start well. Both are in superb shape, so I don't think the length of the match is going to make any difference for either of them.Reuse content