- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

WIMBLEDON, England | This one meant so much to Andy Roddick.

Because of the stakes: a return to Wimbledon’s semifinals. Because of the opponent: 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt. And because of the circumstances: a five-set grind that began under a bright sun and concluded in shadows 3 hours, 50 minutes later.

When it was over, having finally figured out a way to get past Hewitt 6-3, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4, Roddick let out a sigh and raised a fist, then threw his racket down, sat in his changeover chair and covered his face with his hands.

“A mixture of happiness, of relief. In your mind, you’re kind of trying to stay the course for four hours, constantly figuring out what you’re going to do,” said Roddick, who swatted 43 aces in Wednesday’s quarterfinals at the All England Club. “Your mind is just racing.”

He hadn’t been to the final four at Wimbledon since 2005 - he even lost in the second round a year ago. He hadn’t won a five-setter at any Grand Slam tournament in 2 1/2 years. But Roddick came through this time, saving three break points while trailing 2-1 in the fifth set before earning the decisive break in a 14-point game to go ahead 5-4.

“It’s going to pay big dividends, winning a tight match like this,” said Roddick’s coach, Larry Stefanki. “He hasn’t done that in a long time.”

Roddick-Hewitt was the only quarterfinal pitting two men who have been ranked No. 1 and the only one involving two men who have won a major championship. It also was the most riveting contest, not to mention the longest.

“It certainly wasn’t short on drama,” Roddick said. “It was tough from a mental standpoint because Lleyton wasn’t going away, and there were kind of a lot of ebbs and flows.”

Next up for the sixth-seeded Roddick: a semifinal against No. 3 Andy Murray, who beat 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-3, 6-2. Murray is trying to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936, so he will be backed by quite a crowd against Roddick.

“We might be able to count the people for me on this hand,” Roddick said, raising his right arm. “I’m just going to pretend when they say ‘Come on, Andy!’ that they mean me.”

The other semifinal Friday is No. 2 Roger Federer against No. 24 Tommy Haas. It’s a rematch of a June 1 French Open fourth-round match in which Haas took the first two sets and was five points away from winning before Federer won en route to claiming his first title at Roland Garros.

That gave Federer his 14th Grand Slam championship, tying Pete Sampras’ career record. He can surpass that mark here.

“It would be writing in the history books of tennis,” Federer said, then cautioned: “It’s not there yet. Still far away. Many points, many serves, many forehands.”

Seeking a sixth Wimbledon title, he beat No. 22 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (3). Haas knocked off No. 4 Novak Djokovic of Serbia 7-5, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3.

Federer completely took the sting out of the intimidating serves of the 6-foot-10 Karlovic, who had won 79 of 79 service games through more than nine hours of play across his first four matches at Wimbledon - and 128 of 128 service games if you add in his previous tournament.

So wouldn’t you know it: Federer needed all of eight minutes and two Karlovic service games to break the big fella.

Federer hit three return winners, including a forehand off a 122 mph serve on break point, to take a 3-1 lead. That set the tone.

Karlovic, best known for upsetting defending champion Hewitt at Wimbledon in the first round in 2003, was asked why Federer dealt with his serve better than other players do.

“Oh, it is only because he is better than everybody else,” Karlovic said. “That’s it.”

Roddick’s only major championship came at the 2003 U.S. Open. In trying to add a second, he recently tweaked his diet, said he’s in the best shape of his career and has tinkered with his game since hiring Stefanki for this season, working on returns, volleying and backhands.

Those elements helped against Hewitt, who gutted things out Wednesday despite a bothersome left thigh.

Roddick started close to perfectly, making one unforced error in the opening set. He won 20 of 26 points on his serve in that set and also received a bit of a gift from Hewitt, who double-faulted twice in a row to get broken in the second game.

But in the match’s first tiebreaker, Roddick blew a 5-2 lead, then three set points. He also wasted a 2-0 lead in the fourth set.

“A lot of chances to hang his head,” Stefanki noted. “He didn’t.”

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