None better on grass courts

Updated: July 3, 2004, 12:56 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Roger Federer and Andy Roddick have won three of the last four Grand Slam singles titles. On Sunday, after they play for the Wimbledon title, it will be four out of five.

The No. 1-seeded Federer and the No. 2-seeded Roddick completed their suspended semifinal matches on Saturday to forge the golden pairing everyone was hoping for. Federer dispatched Sebastien Grosjean 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6) and then Roddick handled Mario Ancic 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.

They are the highest ranked players in the world, and they have collectively won 44 of their past 45 matches on grass. The exception: Federer's decisive three-set victory over Roddick in last year's semifinal here.

"That was a year ago," Roddick said. "I don't think it will have too much [effect]. It's a different match. What's done is done.

"I think we've both become better players. We've been through a lot more. We've both played a lot of big matches. Whatever I've been through, he's been through, as well. We've kind of shadowed each other.

"We'll see what happens."

Roddick, 21, is the first American in the men's final since Pete Sampras in 2000, and he'll be playing on the Fourth of July.

It was the second meeting between Roddick and Ancic in a month's time and it was just as close as the three-set match at Queen's, won by Roddick, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4, suggested. Ancic, a 20-year-old Croatian, is ranked No. 63 in the world but has the chops to be a top-10 player. On grass, where his formidable wingspan gobbles up passing shots, Ancic is particularly dangerous. He knocked off No. 5 Tim Henman in the quarterfinals and was in his first career Grand Slam semifinal.

The match could essentially be reduced to this: Ancic, 6-foot-4, rushed to net at every opportunity, with Roddick preferring the run of the baseline. Could Ancic effectively blunt Roddick's powerful ground strokes with volleys? Could Roddick pass Ancic?

In Friday's portion of the match, Roddick held the upper hand. He won the first set when he broke Ancic at 4-all, then hit a spectacular running forehand winner to close it out. Roddick was leading the second set 4-3 but was facing a break point when the rain closed things down for the night.

Roddick returned to Court 1 clinging to this fragile margin. In a single point, he lost the momentum completely.

With both players looking understandably tentative, they resumed play. A big forehand by Ancic sent Roddick scrambling for a backhand. The weak return was smashed for a winner and, after a single point, Ancic was even in the set. Two games later -- after breaking Roddick's serve -- Ancic was even in the match.

Ancic continued to roll. He won an amazing 34-stroke rally in the first game of the third set and Roddick started to lose his patience.

"Can we play at my pace?" Roddick asked Ancic sharply, when the Croatian was walking around absent-mindedly during his service game.

Ancic had just won the ninth game of the set and was hoping to break Roddick's serve at 4-5 for the third set when it started sprinkling. Roddick, not wanting to serve from a deficit again, appealed to the chair umpire to stop play. He got the call. Ancic was not happy; he was still complaining when the tarp crew almost took him down.

And so, if Friday's first rain delay brought Ancic the second set, Saturday's first delay helped Roddick win the third set. He held serve and broke Ancic with authority and served out the set.

This, of course, is when rain intervened for a second time. Even as the fourth set progressed on serve, you sensed that Ancic was fading. Serving at 5-all, he double-faulted on break point and Roddick served for the match. It took three deuces to do it, but Roddick's big serve outside opened up the court for a forehand winner and he was through to the final.

Everything about the match was kind of strange," Roddick said. "From playing chunks of it at sometimes, chunks of it in perfect weather, chunks of it, you know, felt like a hurricane, chunks of it while it was raining. I mean, we almost like had every different scenario in one match."

Last year, it wasn't really close in that semifinal against Federer. The Swiss player beat Roddick 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3 to advance to his first Grand Slam final. Roddick is reigning U.S. Open champion, but he has lost five of six matches to Federer over three years.

"We play different types of games," Roddick said. "He's more flash, feel, artistry. The one advantage I have over him is just hitting the crap out of the ball. I mean, that's pretty much what I'm going to have to do.

"I'm going to have to try to play to my strengths."

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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