Roddick taken the full distance as Hewitt tunes up for Federer

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Roddick responded in characteristic fashion, recovering from an edgy start and uncertain middle in his match against Sébastien Grosjean to overcome the ninth-seeded Frenchman, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

As in the second round against Daniele Bracciali, of Italy, Roddick was taken the distance but prevailed.

The decisive point in the final set yesterday owed nothing to Roddick's devastating serve. It was the result of a cramped, improvised return.

Grosjean, break point down in the second game, served into his opponent's body. Roddick, leaning back slightly, contrived a forehand block return. The ball slowly arced in an angle and barely dropped over the net near the far sideline as the scrambling Grosjean made a forlorn attempt to retrieve it.

"That's the game on grass," Grosjean said with a shrug. "But after that I had no chance to break. He was serving really aggressively in the fifth."

Even though he lost the first and fourth sets, Roddick resolved not to be discouraged. "I stayed pretty even-keeled throughout the match," he said.

Roddick and Grosjean are good friends off the court and often practise together at tournaments. Consequently, they find it difficult to kid each other, though Roddick's huge serve and mighty forehand leave little scope for hide-and-seek.

Grosjean, a fine grass-court competitor, was not intimidated. He broke for 4-2 in the opening set and held his lead to take it 6-3. It seemed, however, that Roddick was about to overwhelm him after taking the second set with breaks in the sixth and eighth games and only allowing Grosjean to hold serve once in the third set, for 5-1.

But the tenacious Frenchman fought back to win the fourth set, delaying Roddick's advance to play Thomas Johansson, of Sweden, for a place in the final.

The two men who have ruled Centre Court for the past three years are due to meet in the semi-finals tomorrow, when Lleyton Hewitt will attempt to stop Roger Federer beating him for the eighth time in a row.

Were it not for the form, fitness and dogged determination Hewitt has displayed since returning to the game from injury at Queen's Club less than a month ago, we would question his ability to make a fight of it, which is the Australian counter-puncher's forte.

Hewitt has been unable to bruise Federer since picking himself off the floor and winning in five sets after being two sets and a break down to the Wimbledon champion in a Davis Cup tie against Switzerland in Melbourne in 2003.

"That match was a killer for me in a way," Federer recalled yesterday, "but at the same time it gave confidence, knowing that against Lleyton I can get my act together for three or even more sets."

Hewitt, who is still trying to get his act together after being humiliated by Federer several times, particularly in last year's US Open final, tuned up yesterday with a 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 win against Feliciano Lopez, a rare Spaniard who has a Wimbledon game.

The stylish, left-handed Lopez's problem was in allowing himself to get carried away trying to emulate some of the greats in the royal box, including Manuel Santana, the only Spaniard ever to win the men's singles title, and Ilie Nastase, one of the most talented players not to have lifted the trophy.

After starting the match with some glorious attacking play, he was rewarded with the first break of serve for 3-2, albeit with the help of a net-cord. Unfortunately for Lopez, the 26th seed, that was to be his only service break in the match.

He squandered his advantage in the opening set with a sloppy service game at 4-3, missing with an extravagant high backhand volley to 30-40, and then serving a double fault on the break point.

Hewitt went on to break a second time in the 12th game after Lopez saved two set points, only to net a low forehand volley from the Australian's service return on the third opportunity.

From that moment, Lopez was subdued by Hewitt's consistent serving. The Australian dropped only six points on serve from the opening game of the second set. Hewitt's confidence flowed. His movement was flawless, his groundstrokes were hit deep into the corners of the court, and gradually Lopez's contribution was little more than an entertaining diversion.

Although the final set went to a tie-break, Hewitt had no trouble winning it, 7-2, to conclude the match in just under two hours.

"I was trying to play my best tennis in the second set, and even in the third set," Lopez said. "But with guys like Lleyton, you don't get the opportunity. After he won the first set, he started serving unbelievably. He didn't give me any chance."

Hewitt was delighted about that. "I went out there with a game plan, and I stuck to it the whole time," he said. "Lopez has got a great serve, and there are going to be games when you don't get a racket on the ball. You've just got to accept that and move on.

"He's a dangerous opponent. I played a couple of loose points early when I got broken in the first set, and he got a net-cord to break me. I didn't let that affect me. In the end I started seeing the ball really well, and I was on his serve pretty much every game."

Lopez should learn from his experience at Wimbledon this year. Impressive victories against Marat Safin and Mario Ancic took him to the first Grand Slam quarter-final of his career. Moreover, he became the first Spanish man to reach the last eight at Wimbledon since Manuel Orantes in 1972.

Asked how he was going to overcome Federer, Hewitt said: "You've got to go out there and try and make him not play his best tennis. He doesn't have a lot of weaknesses, but you've got to try and pin something down. You've got to clean your service games up, wait for your opportunities. You're not going to get a whole heap.

"There are little areas where I think I might have a slight advantage – but I'm not telling what they are." A wise decision.