Rain interrupts Roddick's open and shut case

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The Independent Online

Although rain interrupted their match yesterday before even the first set had been completed - Roddick led 6-5 - the pattern of the match was clear. The American was never in trouble on his own thunderous serve, while the Swede had to scrap for almost every point to avoid being broken.

At 30, Johansson knows he will not have many more chances to add to his one Grand Slam title, the 2002 Australian Open. He has fought back from injury, having missed the whole of 2003 after a knee operation, to climb back into the world's top 30. On English grass over the last month he has rediscovered some of his best form, but he went into this semi-final on an eight-match losing streak against players ranked in the world's top five.

Roddick is eight years younger, but this is his sixth year on the circuit and he too has only one Grand Slam, the 2003 US Open, despite his No 4 world ranking and No 2 seeding here. He has lost to Roger Federer at Wimbledon two years in a row, in the semi-finals and then the final.

It was clear from the outset that this would not be a demonstration of classic serve-and-volley tennis on Wimbledon's new, slower ryegrass. Even when you are equipped with as big a serve as Roddick's, it now rarely pays to charge into the net behind every serve. Most of the best grass court players hold back, preparing to advance only if the return gives them the chance to open up the court.

Opponents have such trouble returning Roddick's serve - the American holds the world record at 155mph - that volleying opportunities are rare anyway. Moreover, if the receiver does manage to get the ball back it has so much pace on it that Roddick has a better chance of returning from the back of the court.

While Johansson did not appear to have much trouble reading Roddick's serve, he struggled to cope with its sheer weight. The seventh game was typical: the Swede got his racket on all four serves but was unable to return one. In Roddick's first six service games Johansson won four points.

Johansson tried to vary the pace with sliced backhands and drop shots, but Roddick seemed determined to play at just two speeds - fast and even faster. He leapt several feet into the air to slam back some of Johansson's looping top-spin forehands and only sliced under pressure.

After Federer had dismantled Lleyton Hewitt in the first semi-final in just over two hours, the Centre Court stands were only half full when the match began, with the biggest gaps in the Royal Box, where nine spectators spread themselves over the 90-odd seats.

Roddick opened with a 132mph ace and three points later wrapped up the opening game with one at 135mph. Johansson held his own serve with four aces, although the fastest was delivered at 124mph and he had to save a break point.

Johansson, making a series of errors on his ground strokes, got into trouble in each of his service games, twice dropping the first two points. Yet on each occasion he got his game together and played his way out of trouble. While his own serve lacked the pace of Roddick's, clever placement reaped a regular reward.

As he pondered how to tackle the rest of the match, the Swede must have feared that his bedtime reading would feature Mankell's hero, Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander of the Ystad Police Department, rather than a coaching dossier on how to beat the world's best tennis player.

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