- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

MELBOURNE, Australia

Andy Roddick was right there when Pete Sampras won his 14th Grand Slam title. And he was right there again when Roger Federer moved within one victory of matching Sampras’ record.

After a scorching day in which temperatures hit 111 degrees, Federer beat Roddick 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 in more manageable 91-degree heat Thursday night in the Australian Open semifinals.

The Swiss star will be playing in his 18th Grand Slam final but won’t know his opponent until Friday night, when Spanish left-handers Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco meet in the other semifinal.

Federer will be going for a fourth Australian title. Serena Williams will be doing likewise and also going for a 10th Grand Slam singles title. She ended the 15-match winning streak of Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, winning 6-3, 6-4 to set up a final against Olympic silver medalist Dinara Safina.

This was Federer’s seventh straight win over Roddick in a major and put his overall record in this matchup at 16-2. His loss to Roddick in Miami last year now seems like an aberration.

Roddick lost to Sampras in straight sets in the quarterfinals at the 2002 U.S. Open when he was a 20-year-old emerging talent. Sampras, then 31 and in his 52nd major, retired after beating Andre Agassi two matches later to win the U.S. Open.

Roddick won the next year at Flushing Meadows and held the No. 1 ranking in 2003. Federer was about to embark on an astonishing run.

“I think when Pete did it - I was a part of that one, too - everyone was saying how kind of lofty of an achievement it was,” Roddick said. “I don’t know if we thought we would see it any time soon. Little did we know [Federer] was going to start it the next year and go after it.”

Roddick is 26, just more than a year younger than Federer.

“It’s like my childhood was Pete, and now it’s kind of my grown life is Roger,” he said. “I guess Roger is a contemporary of mine, which didn’t lessen the affect. I see Pete and Andre, and I still get a little jittery. It’s crazy to think it’s come full circle and the magnitude of the numbers [Federer’s] accomplished. It’s pretty scary if you sit down and go through what it takes to accomplish that.”

Roddick lost 15 pounds during the offseason and started retooling parts of game with new coach Larry Stefanki so he would be more competitive against Federer. Yet every time he gave himself half a chance, Federer shut him down.

“He just came up with shots when he needed to,” Roddick said. “That’s what he does.”

Serena Williams had little problems in her singles semifinal, then combined with sister Venus to win a doubles semifinal. They will play for the title Friday against Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova and Japan’s Ai Sugiyama.

Safina defeated fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 7-6 (4) to move into contention for her first major and the No. 1 ranking - two things her older brother, Marat Safin, achieved.

Federer’s focus has been increasingly sharp since he was forced to come back from two sets down to beat Tomas Berdych in the fourth round. In his quarterfinal, he convincingly took down eighth-ranked Juan Martin del Potro, then did the same against Roddick.

This was the hottest January day in Melbourne in 70 years. By the time Federer and Roddick were on court in the evening, temperatures had dropped, and the retractable roof was open.

Federer broke twice in the first set. Adding to Roddick’s frustration was a call that went against him as Federer served at 4-1, sparking a running discourse with chair umpire Enric Molina.

A tiebreaker loomed in the second set with Roddick serving at 5-5. That was until Federer upped the ante and won the last 12 points. The pattern was repeated in the third.

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