Roddick edges Hewitt to return to Wimbledon semifinals
July 1, 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; 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 in the crunch, 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.”
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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 No. 6-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 in what the locals will bill as “Andy vs. Andy.”
“We might be able to count the people for me on this hand,” Roddick said, raising his right mitt. “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 9 hours of play across his first four matches at Wimbledon – and 128 of 128 service games if you add in his previous tournament, too.
So wouldn’t you know it: Federer needed all of 8 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.”
Federer outperformed Karlovic by winning 74 of 85 points in his own service games. Only once did Karlovic so much as get to deuce on Federer’s serve, midway through the third set, and here is how the Swiss star responded: service winner at 129 mph, ace at 128 mph.
Take aces out of the equation – Karlovic led 23-7 in that category – and Federer wound up with a 32-6 advantage in other winners as he reached the semifinals at a 21st Grand Slam tournament in a row, extending his own record. No one else in tennis history ever made it to more than 10 consecutive major semifinals.
“It’s hard to believe I achieved it, because looking back, it’s not just I’m looking back on a few weeks or a month or a year or so. It’s really way back,” said Federer, who last exited a tournament before this stage at the 2004 French Open. “Quite a streak.”
Indeed it is. Consider: The other men left in the tournament all have Grand Slam semifinal streaks of exactly one. Murray and Haas never had been this far at Wimbledon before, while Roddick lost to Federer in the 2003 semifinals and the 2004 and 2005 finals at the All England Club.
Roddick’s only major championship came at the 2003 U.S. Open. In trying to add a second, he recently tweaked his diet, says 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.”
Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Roddick saved one break point with a 126 mph ace, and another thanks to what he called “probably the best half-volley I’ve ever hit in my life.” At 4-all, Roddick fended off three game points for Hewitt, then converted a break point with a forehand passing shot.
“We were giving everything we had out there,” Hewitt said.
Roddick just had a little more in his game than he used to. Now he’ll see if it will be enough against Murray, who leads their head-to-head series 6-2.
Coming off the court after overwhelming Ferrero, Murray was asked whether he would prefer to play Roddick or Hewitt, whose quarterfinal was barely under way.
“I’d just like them to have a long match,” Murray said with a snicker, “so they’re a little bit tired for the semis.”
He got his wish.