Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dandy Andy Sets Up Rematch With Roger

After having to wait an extra day to complete his semifinal match against Swede Thomas Johansson, American Andy Roddick setup a championship rematch of last year's Wimbledon with a hard earned four set victory over Johansson 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (10), 7-6 (5).

For Roddick, the match was befitting of how this tournament has gone for him. The '03 U.S. Open winner had his work cut out for him against '02 Aussie champ Johansson. That much was evident in the first set when each player held serve to force a tiebreaker. With Roddick needing to capitalize on one of two set points, Johansson surprisingly ran off the final four of the tiebreak to own the first set.

However, momentum shifted dramatically when Johansson took a bathroom break after the set. The timing seemed a little odd. When he returned, Roddick broke him twice in the second set and took it easily 6-2 to level the match.

With the balance of the match hanging on who could get the third set, both players performed admirably, combining powerful accurate serves with solid groundstrokes. This led to plenty of competitive rallies and forced both players to fight off break points to stay on serve. Late in the second, when Roddick broke Johansson to go up 6-5, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he'd serve it out without trouble. But that wasn't the case this time. When Johansson converted a second break point with a crosscourt backhand winner, it sent the set to a pivotal tiebreak.

In a tightly contested breaker, both men took turns earning set points to take the lead. Roddick fought off two first with help of a Johansson wide forehand and a service winner. Then Johansson served away a Roddick set point before earning a third of his own. But the hard serving Roddick came through with a clutch ace to level it. After Johansson fought off a second Roddick set point, finally, Andy capitalized on a third chance with a service winner to take it 12-10. The set lasted 68 minutes.

If Roddick thought the victory would be smooth sailing from this point, he had another thing coming. Johansson continued to match Roddick serve for serve. For the day, each player had 19 aces.

Ultimately, they headed for another tiebreak. It's rare that the server wins every point in the breaker but for 10 consecutive points, both Roddick and Johansson took turns holding. With the score knotted at five and Johansson serving to get a set point, an unlikely bounce wound up deciding the outcome of the match. All match long, Johansson had kicked his serve out wide effectively. On this crucial point, his first serve went directly into the corner towards Andy's forehand. But he hit a slice return that just clipped the top of the net and magically, went over leaving Johansson not enough time to recover, giving Roddick match point on his own serve. Just what he needed to escape any further drama of a potential fifth set. Roddick cooly stepped up and crushed an unreturnable shot down the middle that Johansson barely got a forehand on for a service winner to end the match to advance to his second straight Wimbledon final.

Now, the task becomes more difficult for him. Beat top ranked Roger Federer on his most dominant surface. As if the task wasn't easy enough, Roddick has had his share of problems against Federer. Federer has won eight of the nine meetings including the last two at the All England Club. In '03, he eliminated Roddick in the semis with a routine straight set victory. Last year, it was a bit more competitive with Andy surprising Roger by grabbing the first set. But a determined Federer stormed back taking the next three sets in close fashion to repeat as champion.

Can Roddick finally climb the final hurdle and dethrone Federer? He's playing a better brand of tennis than he did last year and at this year's semi defeat to Lleyton Hewitt down under. Roddick is not just dominating on serve or with his lethal forehand but also surprisingly at the net. He's made it part of his game plan to get up to net and take advantage of his deep groundstrokes. So far, Andy has been very sharp, showing some new found flair finishing points away. Even getting himself dirty by diving. This kind of aggressive tactic could be essential if Roddick is to pull this off.

He also is getting up and down the court faster due to improved fitness. Considering that Roddick has already had to go the distance to win two of his matches against earlier opponents and needed to tough out a four setter against Johansson, that fitness could be put to a test against Federer.

With the two-time defending champion having no problem advancing past Hewitt in the other semi Friday, he will be better rested. Federer has only dropped one set thus far, coming back in a heated third round encounter with German Nicolas Kiefer. But since that match, as the opponents have gotten tougher, Federer has lifted his game to another level. He was brilliant against Juan Carlos Ferrero in a very competitive round of 16 match. Against Fernando Gonzalez in the quarters, he had to be equally as dominant to win in straight sets. And finally, against Hewitt, another opponent he has owned lately, Federer was tougher on the big points, allowing him to cruise in three against a game opponent.

Contrast that with Roddick, who had a two day five set struggle in the second round with lucky loser Daniele Bracciali and also was pushed the distance in an ultracompetitive quarter against two-time semifinalist Sebastien Grosjean. He also defeated Guillermo Coria along the way to that match-up in a straight sets test.

During his run to the finals, he has dropped five sets and had to play extra days to advance twice due to rain. All that wear and tear could be cause for concern. But Roddick seems fairly confident that he'll be ready to go.

One thing that could help Roddick this time is he now knows he can win five set matches. Until his two wins at this year's event, he hadn't pulled a match out in five since his comeback from two sets down in the '03 U.S. Open semis against David Nalbandian. Ironically, that was the one major he won.

So, can Roddick prevent Federer from making history and winning his third straight Wimbledon? Something only the legendary Borg and Sampras have accomplished in the modern Open Era. Tune in tomorrow to NBC's Breakfast at Wimbledon at 9 ET/6 PT to find out.

It could be a classic.


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