Roddick faces unexpected foe

Updated: June 30, 2004, 5:56 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- The Parco dei Principi hotel in Rome was burning and Sjeng Schalken and his wife, Ricky, feared for their lives.

They leaped the 10 feet from their seventh-floor balcony -- into the arms of Andy Roddick, standing on his sixth-floor balcony. Along with Roddick, they eventually scrambled down fire ladders to safety, but three hotel guests perished.

That was in May. And while the cathartic experience brought Roddick and Schalken closer -- they practiced together the day before Wimbledon -- they met each other on Court 1 on Wednesday.

Roddick, the No. 2 seed, dispatched No. 12 seed Schalken 7-6 (4), 7-6 (9), 6-3 to advance to his second straight semifinal at Wimbledon. On match point, to punctuate two record serves, Roddick launched himself into the air and slammed a majestic, Samprasesque overhead. That he fell down hardly mattered, for with Roddick it isn't about style points -- not with that scruffy beard (doesn't he look like Treat Williams, you know from younger days before the WB's "Everwood"?) and trucker's mesh hat.

"You know, we'll always have that experience," Roddick said of his bond with Schalken. "We're still tennis players. We're still competitors. We're friends, but once you get inside the lines, you've got to try to take care of business."

Roddick, 21, expected to find Great Britain's Tim Henman and a hostile Centre Court crowd waiting, but Mario Ancic stunned the No. 5 seed in straight sets, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2.

To avenge his semifinals loss last year to eventual champion Roger Federer, Roddick will now have to beat the gangly Ancic to get to, presumably, Federer in the final. Ancic, as a qualifier two years ago, was the last man to beat Federer on grass.

There was a spirited debate in Roddick's six-person entourage about who would actually win, Henman or Ancic.

Ancic's "committed to coming in on every shot," Roddick said. "There's not a lot of indecision in his game right now. He's kind of saying, 'This is what you got, you know, deal with it.'"

Roddick entered his match with Schalken with a 4-1 career advantage, but this was Schalken's third straight trip to the quarterfinals and he is comfortable on grass.

Schalken was leading the first-set tiebreaker 2-0 and seemed to have won the third point when Roddick fell down behind the baseline. But he got up, retrieved a shot and Schalken, closing at the net, dumped a backhand volley into the net.

"Yeah, I rushed it a little," Schalken said. "I thought, 'Andy is down and out there,' and then I missed it. Normally, I never miss that one."

At 7-6, Schalken missed a forehand volley to give Roddick the set.

The second set ended in similar fashion. Schalken, who held three set points in the tiebreaker, hit one of his studied, oddly artistic backhands just long to fall 11-9. That was the point that Schalken seemed to lose interest.

Roddick set a Wimbledon serving record with a 145-mile-an-hour offering in the first set, then blasted one at 146 in the second. He's hitting the ball harder than last year, and he's a more accomplished athlete, as well.

"I've played a lot of big matches, whether it be in the U.S. Open, the finals of Masters Series events, matches where the No. 1 ranking is on the line," Roddick said. "I've been in a lot of pressure situations, and I think that helps." Meanwhile, it's been a tough week for England.

The soccer team lost to Portugal last Thursday in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004, then the national rugby team got blitzed by Australia. London Underground workers went on strike Tuesday night, leading to chaos during Wednesday's commutes. There was hope, however, that a deep run into the tournament would bring comfort to those wounded psyches. Henman, who worked his way into the second week of The Championships for the ninth straight year, seemed poised to force a semifinal confrontation with Roddick.

Ancic, a 20-year-old Croatian who is inspired by daily text messages from his idol, Goran Ivanisevic, had other ideas. Ancic is ranked No. 63 in the world, but at 6-foot-5, has the physical tools to be a dominant player. On Wednesday, in a difficult setting, he dismantled the No. 6-ranked player in the world.

"When you go out there on Centre Court, with such a big English crowd, you expect a tough match," Ancic said. "I was mentally prepared for that."

Both players said the first-set tiebreaker was the difference.

Serving at 6-5, Ancic was looking at his fourth set point. When he hit a big second serve, Henman's forehand return was long.

"There weren't too many chances flying around," Henman said. "After he was able to win that set, I think he gained confidence. Second and third sets, my level went down."

Ancic might actually pose a more difficult challenge for Roddick than Henman, a classic serve-and-volley player, would have. Ancic has a big game and moves relatively well. He pushed Roddick to three sets a few weeks ago at Queen's -- and one of those sets went to a tiebreaker.

"I was lucky to win, to be quite honest," Roddick said.

"He's playing very, very well," Henman said of Ancic. "I'll be intrigued to see how the other players cope with it. If he keeps that level of his serving, both first and second serves, it's just tough to play against."

It has been 68 years since a British man, Fred Perry, won here at the All England Club. And now it will be at least 69. Henman, 29, knows he is running out of opportunities.

"I've never hidden behind the fact that this is the tournament I'd love to win most," he said. "The reality is that I don't have an endless number of years for chances.

"My hopes and desires and aims were to win this tournament. Having lost it, it's a tough one to swallow."

Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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