Rocket Roddick has Johansson in sights

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The Independent Online

"It's probably a weird dynamic for guys like Lleyton [Hewitt] and myself," Roddick said, "because we're pretty much expected to beat everybody else except for him."

"Him" being Roger Federer, of course.

Hewitt, the third seed, has reached that point of no return. The Australian's task today is to end a run of seven defeats by the defending champion.

At least Hewitt sampled a Wimbledon triumph two years ago, before Federer turned Centre Court into his London property awaiting a Swiss cottage.

Roddick made a spirited challenge to Federer's supremacy in last year's final, taking the first set and then forcing the issue for much of the second and third sets before the maestro won, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4.

Most observers expect Roddick to have another crack at Federer on Sunday. One went so far as to ask the second seed if the final was so close that he could almost smell it or taste it.

"What does it smell like or taste like?" Roddick responded. "Chicken?"

He added: "I'm not good enough to look ahead. I'm very concerned about my next opponent right now. You don't get to the last four and then start overlooking people or thinking you're already there. I have a tough opponent ahead. I've got to get through that. So my mind doesn't really wander."

The 30-year-old Thomas Johansson is next up in Roddick's shooting gallery, and the 12th-seeded Swede's prospects of surviving to the final are rated slimmer than Hewitt's, not that Roddick is taking him lightly.

"I'm not super surprised Johansson is in the semis," he said. "When he starts playing well, he plays really well. He's won a Slam. He's won Masters Series events, he's won titles on grass.

"He's a tough player. He serves well. He returns well. He's a complete player. He doesn't have any glaring weaknesses. But I feel good about how I'm playing now."

Renowned for his explosive serve, the fastest ever recorded at up to 155mph, and his mighty forehand, Roddick has worked hard in the past 12 months to improve his net game. "It gives me another option," he said. "It came up huge in my second-round match."

That was when Roddick led by two sets to love and was hauled back by Daniele Bracciali, of Italy, before prevailing in the fifth set, 6-3.

"Maybe two years ago I might have lost that," Roddick admitted. "[Coming to the net] gave me a Plan B."

Roddick was also taken to five sets by Sébastien Grosjean, of France, in the quarter-finals but regarded the win as a release. "I needed a big result," he said. "I feel a lot freer. There was heat on me coming into this tournament. I'd love to take it further. I'm not satisfied."

Last year at Wimbledon, Johansson lost to Federer in straight sets in the third round, but the Swede was playing with a protected ranking after missing the 2003 season following knee surgery in February. This year has been a boon.

"This is one of the best weeks in my life," he said after his semi-final win over Argentina's David Nalbandian. "If I can play my best tennis, I have a shot."

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