Federer will face Hewitt; Roddick, Schalken
WIMBLEDON, England -- It had to happen sometime, at some tournament. Their lives intersected under dire circumstances off the court, and Andy Roddick and Sjeng Schalken were bound to face each other on one, sooner or later.
Roddick helped about a dozen people, including fellow tennis players, escape a fatal hotel fire in May before the Italian Open. One, Schalken, will be his quarterfinal opponent at Wimbledon.
The second-seeded Roddick reached the final eight at the All England Club by beating Alexander Popp 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 Monday. No. 12 Schalken made it that far for the third straight year, ending No. 30 Vince Spadea's surprising run 6-2, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
"Any time you share a very traumatic situation, and kind of share that fear with someone, and get out of it -- there's always something there," Roddick said. "I don't know what that is, but there is kind of something between us now. By the same token, we're both going to try to win a Wimbledon quarterfinal."
They and other pros were in Rome the weekend before the start of a clay-court tournament when their hotel caught fire, killing three guests. Schalken was on the seventh floor, Roddick on the sixth. So Roddick waited on his balcony, with outstretched arms, to catch Schalken when he jumped down. Both then were able to use fire truck ladders to reach the ground.
Three days after the fire, Roddick lost at the Italian Open, his only first-round defeat in 2004.
"Rome was probably the first time in my life I was out on the court and could care less if I won or lost," Roddick said. "I wanted to go home, and I wanted to see my family."
He and Schalken knew each other before, of course, and now they've grown closer, practicing together the day before the start of Wimbledon. But they haven't squared off in a match that counted since the fire; Roddick is 4-1 against Schalken, including three straight victories.
"I hope he's thinking about that a little bit, and taking it easy on me. He didn't do that the last three times," Schalken said. "Before and after, we'll be good friends, and on the court, we'll try to win."
If their match Wednesday is the most intriguing, the best quarterfinal on paper pits the Grand Slam tournament's last two champions: Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt.
The other men's quarterfinals are No. 5 Tim Henman -- who eliminated 2003 runner-up Mark Philippoussis -- against unseeded Mario Ancic, and No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean against unseeded Florian Mayer.
Federer stretched his winning streak on grass to 21 matches, and his successful holds of serve at the All England Club to 89 games with a 6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory Monday over 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic.
It's tough to decide which is more impressive: the way Federer is serving, or the way he completely neutralized the wicked serve of the tour's tallest player.
Karlovic pounded 95 aces through his first three matches. He managed just 14 Monday. An explanation?
"I was playing against Federer, who returns unbelievable," said Karlovic, who stunned Hewitt in the first round last year.
Repeatedly, the defending champion figured out a way to put his racket on serves that reached 140 mph, and he didn't just tap them back over the net. At least five times, Federer swatted return winners.
Then there's Federer's serve. He faced only two break points Monday, both while serving at 4-2 in the first set. Federer erased the first with a service winner, and the second with a forehand winner off a short return. Overall, he won an astounding 79 of 96 points he served against Karlovic.
Through four matches, Federer has dealt with six break points, saving all. That's a major reason for his streak on grass, which would reach 24 matches if he wins the tournament -- one better than Pete Sampras' best run on the surface.
"I have to say, every match on grass has been quite unbelievable. I've always played great tennis," Federer said. "This is good, looking ahead, because from here on, only tough opponents will come my way."
Starting with Hewitt, who got past No. 9 Carlos Moya 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (3).
"I believe I can beat him," Hewitt said. "It's going to be an extremely tough match. He's the best player out there at the moment. He's not No. 1 for nothing."
The last player to break Federer's serve at Wimbledon? Schalken, in last year's quarterfinals, 89 games ago. Schalken also happens to be the only player who won a set against Hewitt during his 2002 title run.
Everyone seems to enjoy Federer's smooth shotmaking, including 1999 Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport.
"As a tennis fan, you have to think Roger Federer is the most amazing thing to watch," Davenport said after beating No. 12 Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 6-4. "The way he plays, the way he moves, the way he acts -- if you were to mold a perfect tennis player, that would be him."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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