Federer awaits Roddick
WIMBLEDON, England The No. 2 player in the world had just uncorked his best serve of the day 125 mph, deep in the corner of the court, to his opponent's backhand.
If only the man on the other side of the net wasn't Roger Federer. If only the man staring back at him wasn't the world No. 1, a player so far ahead of anyone else that he had lost just eight of his last 95 sets on grass.
Then maybe the yellow blur would have sneaked by. Then maybe Lleyton Hewitt would have had something to pump his fists about. Instead, Federer reached out, flicked the ball back to Hewitt albeit barely and started a rally.
A backhand here, a forehand there, and Federer gradually set Hewitt up for the kill, putting him out of position inch by inch before blowing the Aussie away. Another point, another game, another badge for Federer's seemingly unbreakable armor.
It was a scene repeated an endless number of times on Centre Court Friday as Federer dominated Hewitt in their championship semifinal, beating the Aussie 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4), and keeping alive his chances of becoming just the eighth player to win three straight Wimbledon crowns.
"I've got no doubt that I'm the second-best player going around right at the moment," Hewitt said afterwards. "It's just that the best player going around is pretty bloody good."
Federer made it look easy. Too easy. He took a match with much anticipation the two top-ranked players in the world, the last three Wimbledon men's singles champions and made it look like a ho-hum, second-round victory.
To understand Federer's domination, all anyone at Centre Court needed was a working pair of ears for the typical screaming and yelling from Hewitt were absent. No boisterous "Come on!" no deafening "All Right!"
Instead, when Federer blew a first-set forehand past Hewitt, all the 24-year-old responded with was, "Too good, mate."
"He didn't have too much to cheer about today, so he's obviously not going to scream around after he holds his own serve," Federer said. "I think once he's up two sets to love, he's going to be screaming enough in the future so we have to enjoy this while he's not."
Hewitt did everything he could to get his game going. He was more aggressive with his serve, more aggressive with his returns, more aggressive with his rallies and yet he still was unable to win a set.
The loss was Hewitt's ninth straight against Federer. And Hewitt has lost 15 straight sets against the man ranked one spot above him. Afterward, he insisted the gap between him and Federer isn't a mental one. Federer wasn't so sure.
"I think it's obvious," he said of a psychological advantage. "It's not so easy to play somebody you've lost to so many times, especially in a row."
On Friday, Federer was pretty much in control from the beginning, breaking Hewitt's very first serve. Hewitt broke back on Federer's next serve, but the champion again returned the favor in the fifth game, eventually winning the set 6-3.
That set the tone for the match. Federer broke Hewitt in the second set, clawing his way through a 10-point game to win that set 6-4. At that point, most figured the match was over. Not Hewitt. The man some consider the game's fiercest competitor fought back, pushing the third set to a tiebreaker, keeping the slimmest of hopes alive, before losing consecutive points against his serve and eventually succumbing to the defending champ.
Of little consolation for Hewitt was the fact that he didn't suffer through any bagel sets against Federer, as has happened in four of their last six matches.
"There's no doubt he was the better player," Hewitt said afterward. "He served better. He dictated play better. That's where he got the win. I've got to keep grinding away, keep looking for answers, I guess."
With the win, Federer moved his record to 57-3 on the season, without a Grand Slam title. That could change Sunday, when he meets Andy Roddick, who defeated Thomas Johansson in a rain-delayed match on Saturday.
No matter how comfortable he might look during that match, you can rest assured the sport's greatest star will be feeling the nerves.
"I definitely feel the tensions," Federer said. "I'm happy they still come up because if they don't, I'm in the wrong sport."
At this point, nothing could seem more unlikely.
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.