Roddick opts for power against beauty of the best
American sets up the dream final with Federer after hard-fought victory over promising Croat. Alex Hayes reports
Sunday 04 July 2004
What is it with Croats and the rain in Wimbledon semi-finals? Three years after his mentor and close friend, Goran Ivanisevic, spent three energy-sapping days battling the elements and Tim Henman to reach the singles final, Mario Ancic this time suffered the agony of a long, drawn out defeat by Andy Roddick.
The American's hard fought 6-4 4-6 7-5 7-5 victory ensures that the organisers have the final they wanted: the intriguing match-up between Roddick, the brute of the Tour and Roger Federer, the king of the grass. "It's going to be a really cool occasion," Roddick said, "especially because it will be the 4th of July."
It remains to be seen if this turns out to be America's day. If this is the dream final for the money men and television, it is more like a nightmare for Roddick, who has beaten Federer on only one occasion, in the semi-finals of the Canadian Open last year. On the five other occasions the two have met, including last year's semi-final at Wimbledon, Roddick has been unable to find any holes in the Swiss' game.
"He's a great champ and I have a lot of respect for him," a confident Roddick said, "but I don't think I have an inferiority complex. Last year's semi was a different match and it won't have any effect on this final. What's done is done."
Should Roddick serve as poorly as he did 12 months ago, or Federer hit the ball as sweetly as he has been these Championships, a repeat of the 7-6 6-3 6-3 demonstration could be on the cards. "For sure, if I am not at my best he will do me a lot of damage," Roddick conceded. "But I've been playing well so it should be a close match."
Roddick and Federer may be neck-a-neck in the rankings, but they are poles apart in terms of style. Roddick is the pretty boy who has been taught to win ugly by his coach Brad Gilbert, while Federer is the self-confessed "ugly duckling" who has taken the game to a new level of beauty: the Nebraskan chalk versus the Swiss cheese.
"We do play different," Roddick said. "He's more flash, feel and artistry. But the one advantage I have over him is just hitting the crap out of the ball. It's pretty much what I'm going to have to do to have any chance of winning." One fears for the line judges.
Against Ancic, Roddick proved that he possesses the power of shots, but also mind, to go all the way. The rain and wind made for "the toughest conditions I have ever known in one match", but did not stop the 21-year-old from winning through. "It was like a hurricane out there," he said. "I think we experienced four seasons in one match and I even thought the rain might have cost me the match at one point."
Roddick was referring to Friday evening, when Ancic, who was trailing by a set and struggling to contain his opponent's aggression and power, looked overjoyed to be coming off Court One. Come midday yesterday, the Croat was a different player and duly broke the seemingly untouchable Roddick serve in the first game back on court. Less than 15 minutes after the resumption of play, Ancic had taken the second set 6-4. "Mario came out firing on all cylinders," Roddick acknowledged. "He caught me a bit cold."
Whereas Roddick looked better in every department on Friday, Ancic was now matching the Nebraskan stride for stride. The Croat was even threatening to take control of the third set when the elements decided to get in on the act once more. This time, it was the turn of Roddick, who was 5-4 down when the heavens opened, to be thankful for the rain.
"For sure I was on the ropes a little then," he admitted, before explaining why he ran off court as soon as the umpire gave him the option. "I didn't want to put myself in a compromising situation like on Friday [when Roddick was forced to play on for a couple of points under the drizzle and went off for the night a break point down]. I could see the big black cloud coming, so I wasn't going to wait for it to start raining hard."
When they returned 25 minutes later, Roddick had rediscovered his power and fearlessness, and promptly went on to take the third set 7-5. Ancic was down but not out. He held his first five service games of the fourth set comfortably and threatened to break Roddick on two occasions, but time and again the American found the answer, usually thanks to his incredible serve. Having weathered the minor storms, Roddick was then handed the match, as Ancic's serve let him down for one, ultimately decisive game. The first point of the 11th game set the tone: Ancic dropped his racket while serving, could do nothing about the Roddick return and went on to surrender his serve.
Roddick, proving that he is not just a nerveless hitting machine, looked anxious and fumbled through his own service game, eventually coming through after saving two break points. "I knew I just had to get through that one," he said. "I was tense but that is normal. I mean, it's not every day you find yourself knocking on the door of a Wimbledon final."
Roddick's grit and determination have helped him force his way on to Centre Court today, but he will have to play uglier than ever to win against the artist.
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