<
>

Federer, Roddick still best on grass

7/1/2004

WIMBLEDON, England -- When you have a serve as big as Andy Roddick's, it just provides so many possibilities on any surface. On grass, it has made him arguably the second-best player behind Roger Federer. Roddick has won the title at Queen's Club for two consecutive years; he's in the semifinals for a second straight year and got here without losing a set.

Roddick is holding serve so regularly it allows him to take more chances in his return game. Barring any major arm injuries, he'll have the best serve for the next decade. That alone will keep him as one of the best grass-court players in the world.

In the semifinal, he'll play Mario Ancic, who probably returns serve better than anyone Roddick's faced here so far. It was interesting to see how, in Wednesday's quarterfinal, Ancic was able to break down Tim Henman's serve. Ancic cannot break down Roddick's serve, but he'll have to put a lot of pressure on Roddick's serve in hopes of getting him to second-guess himself.

So far, when Roddick has faced an attacking opponent he's become more aggressive coming to the net. Against less aggressive opponents he stays back more. Ancic is unlikely to attack Roddick's second serve. For Ancic to have a chance, he'll need to serve big and accurately, and to volley better than he did against Henman.

It wouldn't be surprising to see several tiebreaks in this match. If that happens, Roddick has the advantage because the stronger server, who gets free points off his serve, generally does better in a tiebreak.

Roddick should win this match in four sets, but it will be a lot closer than people think.

So far in The Championships, the only things that have bothered Roger Federer are the rain delays. He was in such control against Lleyton Hewitt that only the two rain delays allowed Hewitt to get back into the match. When Federer is playing his game and is as confident as he is now, there's no one who can beat him. Certainly not Sebastien Grosjean, whom he plays in the semifinals. Federer has more power and a bigger serve, and he's infinitely a better volleyer.

Grosjean has to hope for a few rain delays in this match to break up Federer's rhythm. If that happens, he's got to be ready to capitalize like Hewitt did. Under nice conditions, Grosjean cannot win this match. Grosjean and Roddick are the only two who haven't lost a set in this championship. But Grosjean has not faced anyone in this championship whom you wouldn't expect him to beat, including his quarterfinal against relatively unknown Florian Mayer.

Grosjean is known for not closing out tournaments. Once he reaches the semis or finals of an event, he doesn't play his best tennis. There's no reason why a guy with his talent and ability shouldn't have more than three career titles and seven final losses. That stat shows he's not playing to the best of his ability.
He cannot afford to do that against Federer.

Federer should serve and volley in this match more than against Hewitt because Grosjean doesn't have Hewitt's return of serve skill. Consequently, the points will be a lot shorter than against Hewitt, which will give Grosjean less time to run around the baseline and play the longer points.

Federer will make it through to the final for the second straight year with straight sets victory and we'll get the matchup we all hoped for from the beginning of the tournament: Roddick vs. Federer.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.