Master of the dark arts comes under spell of man with the magic racket

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We should have known; Harry Potter always triumphs over Lord Voldemort in the end. Not that it is entirely fair to compare Andy Roddick with JK Rowling's prince of darkness. In fact, he's an enormously personable young man who several times during yesterday's final made the Centre Court crowd hoot with laughter. Mind you, that's no great feat. It usually only takes an errant pigeon to have them rolling in the aisles.

We should have known; Harry Potter always triumphs over Lord Voldemort in the end. Not that it is entirely fair to compare Andy Roddick with JK Rowling's prince of darkness. In fact, he's an enormously personable young man who several times during yesterday's final made the Centre Court crowd hoot with laughter. Mind you, that's no great feat. It usually only takes an errant pigeon to have them rolling in the aisles.

But Roddick, like Voldemort, is a master of the dark arts, which in tennis terms means belting aces and bludgeoning hapless opponents into submission.

Roger Federer, like young Potter, is more reliant on sheer magic.

During the rain-interrupted first set the defending champion appeared to have mislaid his wand. Indeed, the watching Gordon Ramsay must have sympathised. There are evenings even in a restaurant with three Michelin stars when things don't go quite right, when the lad supposed to be topping and tailing the beans cries in sick, when the pastry chef is a little heavy-handed, when the signature dish is slightly overcooked.

Federer has several wonderful signature dishes and for long periods yesterday they were all slightly overcooked. That remarkable single-handed backhand, so destructive in the semi-final defeat of Sébastien Grosjean, repeatedly sailed over the baseline. The no less remarkable forehand did not seem to be functioning properly, either. Nor the majestic volley. But that was partly as a consequence of what he had to deal with.

Roddick had promised to throw the kitchen sink at him and the American - hoping to win his first Wimbledon on what was both his brother's birthday and his homeland's Independence Day - added the entire fridge-freezer. He produced three aces in his first service game, one of them crossing the net at a scary 145mph. The set subsequently went with serve, and became only the second that Federer had lost in the championship; in the quarter-final Lleyton Hewitt pipped him in a second-set tie-break.

The last time that a man won here without dropping a set, incidentally, was Bjorn Borg in 1976. Clearly, Federer has the game to go on to dominate Wimbledon as Borg did, if not to become the greatest player the old game has ever seen. John McEnroe, for one, thinks that is perfectly likely. When Federer is wielding his racket to the very best of his ability he is Zorro with a sword, Rembrandt with a paintbrush, Rodin with a chisel. Which perhaps makes me a pseud with a corner but I don't care; when you start trying to describe this man playing his best tennis there can be no such thing as hyperbole.

In the meantime, like Ernie Els in the age of Tiger Woods, or any cricketer you like to mention in the age of Don Bradman, Roddick has the misfortune - if misfortune it can be called - to be an extraordinarily talented sportsman going about his business in the shadow of talent even more extraordinary than his own. Following this 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4 defeat he was asked on court, by the BBC's Sue Barker, whether he thought his rivalry with Federer would continue for many years? "I'm going to have to start winning some of them to call it a rivalry," he said. In seven meetings he now trails 6-1.

But he has nothing to reproach himself for. Brilliantly prepared by his coach Brad Gilbert, the gameplan worked perfectly at first, Federer demonstrably rattled not only by the power of the Roddick serve but also by the howitzers that went by the name of groundstrokes. Moreover, the American then proved that he was as strong in the head as he was in the arm. He swiftly lost the first four games of the second set but then twice broke the Federer serve and levelled at four-all. Had a handful of points gone the other way, he would now be celebrating his second Grand Slam title. And, at last night's ball, he would have got to dance with Maria Sharapova.

But the huge serve sometimes let him down; there's not much point propelling a ball at over 140mph when it flies out. He had more success when he mixed it up a bit, producing slower serves that kicked more, including a 103mph ace. Unfortunately for him, Federer had by then rediscovered some of the touch that had earlier gone missing. And when play was suspended for a second time, in the middle of the third set, it was the Swiss who came out firing on all cylinders. Against the aces specialist, he would wrap up the title with an ace. How ironic.

Wimbledon 2004 was positively festooned with ironies. One was that an event blighted by poor weather finished in lovely early-evening sunshine. Another was that mobile phones trilled repeatedly in the Centre Court crowd, even during yesterday's final, prompting umpires to deliver polite rebukes and all spectators except the shame-faced Nokia One to erupt in supportive applause; yet on the only occasion when everyone on Centre Court urged a mobile to burst into action, as young Sharapova tried to phone her mother in Florida following her remarkable victory in Saturday's final, she couldn't get a signal.

Another irony was that had Roddick defeated Federer, it would have been considered by some tennis cognoscenti to be an even greater shock than Sharapova's defeat of Serena Williams. Yet Roddick was the No 2 seed, with the fastest serve in the world, and shortly before the championships had reminded everyone of his ability on grass by successfully defending his title at Queen's. How could a victory for such a marvellous player possibly have been considered an upset? Because he was playing Federer, that's why.

Later, bringing his engagingly cheerful demeanour to the press conference, Roddick was asked whether before the match he had felt psychologically beaten? "Not me," he said, "(but) he's got an aura about him right now.

"That's for sure. I don't think anybody would argue with that." Nobody did.

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