Roddick pits power against Swiss timing

Men's final: Big-serving American sees off Johansson in four sets to earn second chance to dethrone Federer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yet, the immediate and most pertinent question was whether he had arranged an appointment replete with possibility or simply lined up an experience of yet more pain, confronted, as the Nebraskan will be, by Roger Federer, a man who drills shots with the unerring precision and persistence of a dentist preparing a filling.

The No 2 seed, voted the "the Sexiest Man Alive" by readers of one magazine, looked as though he had been going through a few sessions providing evidence of just that as he departed Centre Court sweating profusely, his shirt and shorts grass-stained. In contrast, Federer, the No 1 seed and his opponent today, had a few minutes earlier, during a rest day, been the epitome of insouciance as he discussed their meeting.

Deprived of recovery time and having undergone a far more severe examination than Federer had the previous day against Lleyton Hewitt, it would surely require a herculean effort for the American to reverse last year's result.

"If we'd played [the final] tonight I'd still be thrilled," Roddick retorted. "He's [Federer's] the champion and I'd love to give it another shot against Roger."

He added: "It was tough because we were both playing at such a high level. But credit to him [Johansson], he played great. I was lucky to get through." Certainly, thenetcord that won Roddick the penultimate point in the fourth set was evidence of that. "Yeah, I felt guilty for a second - but then I got over it," he said.

His candour about yesterday's opponent, the No 12 seed and winner of the 2002 Australian Open, was not misplaced. Johansson conceded three inches in height, 20lb in weight, and considerably more in ego - this is a character who is quite happy to be known by the epithet "Dopey", having been born with big ears and not much hair - to the man determined to become the 24th American in 60 years to brandish that championship trophy. With a degree more self-belief on vital points, the 30-year-old Swede may have been successful.

Fortunately for Roddick, he is decidedly quicker-witted on court than his appearance on The Weakest Link would imply. ("Name a farmyard animal which sounds like a letter of the alphabet," asked Anne Robinson. "Baaa," replied Roddick. Ah, well. Ewe can't have everything.)

It had been Johannson who won the first set, 8-6 in a tie-break; yet, with the momentum in his favour, loped off for a "comfort break". Evidently, the Swede left his game in the cubicle as he succumbed to two breaks of serve at the start of the second set. Roddick, who had stepped up his serve and volleying from the first set, swiftly established a 4-0 lead, before eventually prevailing 6-2 in only 25 minutes.

The third set was the defining one as both players struggled to hold their serve. It was also during this sequence that Roddick dived inelegantly, in a vain attempt to intercept a successful Johansson pass, and ended up with his whites greened. At 5-5, Roddick secured what appeared to be a crucial breakthrough, capturing the Swede's service game, only for Johansson to return the favour, ensuring that the contest should proceed to a third tie-break with a devilishly whipped cross-court backhand.

It had been disconcerting to discover that Thomas Johannson's performances are galvanised by the presence of his friend, the former Sweden international Thomas Brolin, whose rotund features beamed down at him here. Fortunately, the tennis player's decision making was rather more accurate than the footballer in the autumn of his career.

Nerves were etched into both performances, and at 3-3, Roddick had some unkind words for an unfortunate linesman over a baseline call, which was corrected by the umpire, Enric Molina. Johansson enjoyed three set points in a series of mini-breaks, but yielded them carelessly before Roddick prevailed 12-11.

Roddick closed the match with an unanswerable serve, and that will clearly trouble Federer, as it has before, but as the American enjoys the inheritance of that frequent US residency, not so long ago held by Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, there are still grave doubts that he can live with the Swiss occupier.

There are life's great luxuries; for many, reclining with a favourite tipple by the pool in an idyllic location? Or there is watching a player whose power is allied to a rare grace and subtlety. Many would gladly pay more to witness the latter, just once in their lifetime. For Federer, the man from the land of clockmakers, time almost appears to stand still as he negotiates his opponents' serves and returns, with a lazer-like direction-finder for those lethal groundstrokes which offer opponents precious little respite.

In comparison to the balletic athleticism of Federer, undefeated on grass in 35 matches, Roddick's repertoire is limited. Just how does he overcome a player who modestly reflects that his key strengths are merely "consistency and my forehand" but who, in reality, possesses a repertoire so varied that, on grass, it is well nigh unbeatable? "It's going to be fun," opined Roddick, who believes he is a better athlete than 12 months ago. "You know, it comes down to big points. He won them last year. I'm going to have to try to win them this year."

But most frightening is his opponent's focus. It was surely implausible that Federer was unaware that another significant event was being staged yesterday, beyond the women's final and men's semi-final here. It had to be explained to him what Live8 was, and the frequency of such an event. "I think they do it once a year?" Federer asked.

Don't even suggest it to Sir Bob.