Two first time Wimbledon finalists: Federer vs. Philippoussis
As Andy Roddick walked to his chair, two sets down and headed toward elimination at Wimbledon, he could only smile in admiration at the play of his opponent, Roger Federer. "He's just playing very well," Roddick said.
"On a couple of points, I felt like I put in really good points and was just on the losing end of them by a long shot."
Outserving Roddick and hitting winners from all over the court, Federer won their semifinal showdown on Friday, 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3. The No. 4-seeded Federer, the first Swiss man to reach a Grand Slam final, will play for the title on Sunday against unseeded Australian Mark Philippoussis, who overpowered No. 13 Sebastien Grosjean 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3.
The final pairing might result in some entertaining tennis, never a given on grass. Philippoussis' single-minded, big-swinging game, which has produced 164 aces in six rounds, will be matched against Federer's stylish all-court approach.
Federer showed he could play on grass two years ago as a precocious 19-year-old, when he ended Pete Sampras' 31-match Wimbledon winning streak. This year he has won grass, hardcourt and claycourt titles, a testament to his versatility. All that's left is the long-expected Grand Slam breakthrough.
"He's a true master of his class," three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker said. "He's playing tennis like they used to play — go back to Ilie Nastase.
"He can serve and volley at times, he can stay back, he plays the drop shot, he plays the slice, he really can play all shots. That's something we don't see that much anymore, and it's good that this kind of tennis is succeeding at Wimbledon."
For the No. 5-seeded Roddick, now 0-2 in Grand Slam semifinals this year, the beginning of the end came in the tiebreaker. He held a set point serving at 6-5 but put an easy forehand into the net. "If I'd had an inch more height on it, the set probably would have been over," he said.
Instead, Federer won the set two points later, and pulled away from there.
Roddick tried a little showmanship, hitting a ball between his legs after it landed long. He tried arguing, briefly complaining when the chair umpire ruled a shot bounced twice before Roddick hit it.
But the match continued to slip away. Federer closed the second set on a long rally, moving smoothly from side to side before charging forward to put away a difficult half volley.
"Ridiculous," Roddick said. "I don't know if anybody else can do that shot. It was almost like he was doing a trick shot." He may need a few against Philippoussis, who like Federer is seeking his first major title. The Australian was on the verge five years ago when he lost to compatriot Pat Rafter in the U.S. Open final, but the next year he hurt his left knee, an injury that led to three operations and two months in a wheelchair.
The comeback began slowly. Philippoussis moved to the San Diego area and began working with a fitness trainer whose clients include members of the Green Berets. One exercise had 26-year-old Philippoussis descending long stairways hands first. "We've done some crazy drills where he's nearly made me cry," Philippoussis said.
He cut back such hobbies as skydiving and snowboarding, curbed his appetite for the night life and began to concentrate on tennis. Now he's one victory from becoming the third unseeded men's champion since Wimbledon began seeding players in 1927. The others were Becker in 1985 and Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
"Mark is one of the most talented players I've ever seen," said fellow Australian Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion. "When he can put it together and when he serves the way he can, he has so much power, so much ability and so much strength. He's an animal out there."
Philippoussis is the fourth consecutive men's finalist from Australia, and he's trying to give his country back-to-back Wimbledon champions. Lleyton Hewitt won the 2002 title.