Commentary

Biggest hurdle ahead for Roddick

Updated: July 5, 2009, 3:39 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- So, what now for Andy Roddick?

Sure, the resilient Roddick pulled off a huge upset and single-handedly destroyed the hopes of a nation by topping Andy Murray, but the sobering reality is not many are giving him a chance to deliver an even bigger upset against perennial history maker Roger Federer at Wimbledon on Sunday. That's a polite way of putting it. In the land of betting, pubs and sudden Caribbean-like weather, Roddick enters the men's final as much as a 9-1 underdog.

It's easy to see why. Federer sauntered to a seventh straight Wimbledon final and 20th Grand Slam final, both records, and is a devastating 18-2 versus Roddick. Given Federer sets records at virtually every major he shows up at nowadays, he probably can't keep track of every milestone on the horizon. He'll certainly know, however, that a victory Sunday would give him a 15th major, surpassing the record of men's leader Pete Sampras.

To boot, Federer is super relaxed after ending his French Open hoodoo in Paris last month and thus completing his Grand Slam collection. He entered Wimbledon, his favorite tournament, knowing injured archrival Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, was out of the picture.

"From Andy's perspective, it can't be easy going against Roger because he has enormous respect for him and enormous respect for what he's achieved,'' said ESPN analyst Darren Cahill, who coached Grand Slam winners Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt. "Andy's not the only player that has matchup problems against Roger. Everyone does, apart from Nadal basically. … Andy's got to stay the course. He's got to keep telling himself he's playing better.''

Roddick, understandably unable to contain his emotions in the wake of topping a Big Four stalwart on enemy territory and reaching a first Grand Slam final since the 2006 U.S. Open, played free of panic, Cahill added, a result of newish coach Larry Stefanki's direction. Stefanki guided the likes of former No. 1s John McEnroe, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marcelo Rios, as well as Britain's big hope and whipping boy before Murray, Tim Henman. The chatty Illinois native left exciting Chilean Fernando Gonzalez to join Roddick, turning down an opportunity to counsel Murray.

[+] EnlargeAndy Roddick
Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty ImagesNow you've done it, Andy Roddick.

Against Murray, Roddick ventured forward relentlessly (75 approaches) -- which might not be the tactic against Federer -- served unbelievably, landing 75 percent of his first serves, and targeted Murray's tame second serve. He obviously won the big points, because the Scot registered more aces, fewer double faults, more winners and fewer unforced errors in the 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) result that deflated Centre Court. Talk about a statistical anomaly.

Roddick exhibited few of the nerves displayed against Hewitt in the quarterfinals, when he blew a chance to wrap things up in three sets and needed five to prevail. Having shed 15 pounds in the offseason, back to the weight he carried in winning the 2003 U.S. Open, his lone Grand Slam win, fitness wasn't an issue Friday.

Three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, still a Wimbledon fixture thanks to his broadcasting duties with the BBC, was impressed.

"He was willing to take the risks and wasn't afraid of the occasion,'' Becker said. "He has to play a similar type of game as he did against Murray. Be aggressive, really aggressive, and obviously serve big.''

The good news for Roddick is that two of his past three tilts versus Federer have been close. During this season's clay-court swing, Roddick forced a third set in the quarterfinals of the Madrid Masters, and he did the same in the quarterfinals of the hard-court Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. A year earlier in Miami, Roddick ended a five-year, 11-match losing streak against Federer.

"He's going to need to get into a lot of points and probably take a higher-risk shot to try to finish the point more so than against Murray,'' said Cahill, who this year declined an opportunity to coach Federer. "But he's capable of doing it. And you know what, he only has to do it four times to break.''

Federer is 6-0 against Roddick in Grand Slam matches. Roddick extended the Swiss to four sets in the 2004 Wimbledon final, famously uttering afterward he "threw the kitchen sink at [Federer], but he went to the bathroom and got a tub." Roddick heaped more praise on Federer a year later, while soaking up another defeat.

Federer is battle tested this fortnight, too, by far encountering the toughest draw of the main contenders. He swept aside German shot-maker Philipp Kohlschreiber, blossoming Swede Robin Soderling, always dangerous Croat Ivo Karlovic and the surging Tommy Haas, another German. Haas failed to manufacture a break point in the semifinals, losing 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3.

"I like playing against Andy, not only because of the [head-to-head] record,'' Federer said. "I enjoy how he leaves everything out on court. I can only marvel at how incredible his serve is.''

Roddick hopes Federer will be marveling at unprecedented levels Sunday.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.