Roddick displays the class of a champion

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The Independent Online

Andy Roddick did not want to talk about the moments of blinding light revelation which turned him from a big, talented kid into every meaty ounce a Wimbledon champion in waiting.

"No, man, I am not trying to think too much. I am just trying to let it happen. I am not gonna over-think myself. If things are going good, they are going good..."

Some here believe that it is the quirky genius of Brad Gilbert, Andre Agassi's former Svengali, that has turned a player who as recently as the French Open resembled more a skittish, albeit unusually powerful colt than the authentic classic contender who took apart the respected Swedish veteran Jonas Bjorkman, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and a half on Court One.

Others wonder if Gilbert, who gets up at 4am to check the latest baseball results and provide informed and diverted sports conversations for his bright burning 20-year-old protégé, has merely arrived in Roddick's life at precisely the right time. Certainly if it is true that success in life is to do with timing, timing and timing, Gilbert may well have shown up just when the Roddick harvest is about to be gathered.

Bjorkman, who was ranked as high as No 4 in 1997, came into yesterday's match describing himself as an "ageing Viking". Long before the end of yesterday's explosion of Roddick's power, however, the old Viking had surely abandoned any ambition for rape or pillage. "He probably feels more like a cup of cocoa and an early night," said one deeply impressed observer of Roddick's performance.

"I wanted to make a good start, get in the zone and after he broke back in the fourth game of the first set it went really well. I felt composed," Roddick said.

"I think I dealt with the weather situation quite well. I am just trying to take the outlook that when I am on the court I am going to compete and otherwise be mellow all day. If you tried to stay in a frenzy all day, you are going to be mentally shot by the time you go out there.

"When I am off the court, I am going to relax. So I didn't do a whole lot. Sat around, read the paper, slept."

And then he awoke with thunder in his heart.

Composed? Almost entirely of fire and tungsten, it seemed. After losing that service game, Roddick produced an astonishing series of power serves and hay-maker ground strokes. Of 28 points on his own serve, at one point, he had dropped just two. The final tally of that - for Bjorkman - disabling sequence was eight points dropped from 48. The Viking's long boat had simple been chopped to pieces.

It was a performance that inevitably provoked a touch of awe - and a powerful sense that the real final of this Wimbledon comes two days early with today's semi-final meeting between Roddick and the gifted Roger Federer.

The 21-year-old Swiss player has, they say, the more rounded game and a sweeter touch but can he live with the Roddick strength and mounting self-belief?

Roddick said: "I haven't beaten him yet but I do have great confidence now, though we have both been playing great tennis. We are both on rolls. He won in Halle and he has come through here. I won Queen's and I have come through here. So we both have plenty of confidence. It should be a good one."

Certainly today's collision is by some margin the most significant unanswered question of this tournament.

The Australian Mark Philippoussis has produced the most outstanding performance so far in his superb defeat of Agassi earlier this week and has both power and touch to dispute Roddick's current surge of confidence. However, there must be the suspicion that Roddick is indeed the man who has most impressively claimed the stage.

He had little sympathy with yesterday's call led by old champions such as John McEnroe, Pat Cash and Boris Becker for the International Tennis Federation to reduce the size of the rackets... and the power of a Roddick who just happens to serve with both withering speed and accuracy. "I am not trying to take away anyone's speed. I am not trying to take away someone else's strengths. I am just trying to play the game."

He is doing it. It seemed clear enough yesterday, beyond the power of any legislation or rival talent.

Agassi, who knows the impact of Gilbert's coaching touch, leans to the belief that the young man from Nebraska has truly come of age.

He said: "Brad elevated my life in many ways, even outside the tennis court. He introduced me to a lot of things that I still hold on to, but I also think that Andy has shown a clear commitment to learning and to pushing himself forward. You have got to give him credit for the way he has gone about his business in the last week and a half."

That business is plainly to do with winning at the highest level.