- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 5, 2003

WIMBLEDON, England — This wasn’t tennis. This was assault and battery in Wimbledon whites.

Transforming Centre Court into a well-manicured woodshed, Switzerland’s Roger Federer provided all the shotmaking fireworks on the Fourth of July, crushing Andy Roddick 7-6 (8), 6-3, 6-3 in the Wimbledon semifinals. No.4 seed Federer advances to tomorrow’s final, where he will face Australia’s Mark Philippoussis, a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 winner over France’s Sebastien Grosjean.

“To raise my game like this for such a big match is just incredible,” said Federer, who will play in his first major final. “I’m very happy to have an opportunity to win a Grand Slam.”

Like Federer, Philippoussis is playing in his first Wimbledon final. He reached the U.S. Open final in 1998 but has since struggled to overcome a series of knee injuries.

“So far it feels good,” he said. “I still got one match to play. So nothing to get too excited about.”

Heading into their semifinal match, No.5 seed Roddick called Federer the best current player not to win a Grand Slam. That may change soon enough. Though Roddick had been tabbed as the odds-on tournament favorite, it was Federer who dominated play, his smooth, all-court game overwhelming Roddick’s clumsy, straight-ahead power.

“It seemed like he was seeing the ball early all day on lots of my shots,” said Roddick, reduced to weary cliche. “All credit to him. He played, you know, one [heck] of a match.”

Did Federer ever. Unpredictable serves. Deft volleys. Whiplash forehands. Wicked backhand slices down the line. The 21-year-old Swiss unwrapped his entire arsenal like so much milk chocolate, flashing the gifts that have led tennis observers to label Federer a future Wimbledon champion since he snapped Pete Sampras’ 31-match All England winning streak two years ago.

“I knew it was in me,” said Federer, who, like Roddick, has a history of Grand Slam disappointments and flamed out in the first round of the French Open. “But I didn’t know what it takes.”

As Federer worked the grass in the manner of da Vinci working a sketch pad, Roddick could only simmer — and plead with a wayward bumblebee that had been hounding Federer to “help him out.” At one point, Roddick barked, “darn it, darn it, darn it” to no one in particular; at another, he erupted at chair umpire Enric Molina after a semi-late call.

“No one heard you,” Roddick argued. “They didn’t clap or anything. You didn’t call it until [Federer] looked at you!”

“I would never lie,” Molina replied.

“You would to cover your [butt],” Roddick retorted.

There was no covering Roddick’s limitations. All tournament long, he had relied on the brute force of a serve that tops out in the 140 mph range. But Federer read Roddick’s serve faster than a Fleet Street tabloid, using his quick hands to block the 20-year-old American’s blasts back into play.

A winner in all three of their previous meetings, Federer broke Roddick three times — matching the number of breaks Roddick had yielded in his five previous matches — and held his opponent to just three aces.

“I’m not scared of his serve,” Federer said. “Because every time I played him, I read it well. I don’t want to say it breaks down, but he gets kind of frustrated because I read it. I always make sure I get a lot of balls back. Then he has to adjust.”

Denied cheap and easy service points and forced to play extended rallies, Roddick had no Plan B. And with new coach Brad Gilbert looking on in a floppy Metallica hat, he had no answer for Federer’s deft shotmaking, either.

Roddick would come to net; Federer would rip a backhand pass. Roddick would stay back; Federer would jerk him along in the baseline in the manner of a small dog on a short leash.

Meanwhile, Roddick couldn’t get a whiff — or even a few stray particles — of Federer’s serve. The Swiss fired 17 aces, connected on 63 percent of his first serves and snuffed both of Roddick’s break opportunities.

“That’s the best he’s served against me,” Roddick said. “A couple of points I felt like I put in really good points [but ended up] on the losing end of them. By a long shot.”

In winning a first-set tiebreaker, Federer did it all, all of it well-done: A beautiful reflex volley, an ace wide, a forehand winner.

For his part, Roddick still had one chance to win the tiebreaker. And possibly change the complexion of the match.

On serve and leading 6-5, Roddick fired a wide serve, took the ball early in the midcourt — and yanked a forehand into the tape.

“I had the shot I wanted,” he said. “I just missed it. An inch more height on it, and the set probably would have been over.”

When it was over — the match, that is — Federer’s virtuoso performance earned a standing ovation from the Centre Court crowd.

Asked about the facing the hard-serving Philippoussis in tomorrow’s final, Federer begged off — still savoring an afternoon that was all his, and his alone.

“I’m not thinking — I don’t want to talk too much about the Philippoussis match,” he said. “Because I’m kind of enjoying this moment now.”

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