Federer's serve is the key By John McEnroe (Filed: 04/07/2004) When I was a kid I used to watch a basketball player called Julius Irving - Dr J - who could do some quite amazing things with a ball and I remember thinking at the time, 'There's never going to be anyone like him again'. And then along came Michael Jordan. Roger Federer: King of the court I was reminded of how even the very special can be succeeded when Roger Federer finally arrived last summer to take over the mantle of Pete Sampras. Now, I'm not suggesting for one moment that I believe Federer can surpass Sampras's extraordinary record haul of 14 Grand Slam titles, but I do think he is a more gifted player than the American and he certainly has it within his capability to go past me with my seven Slam successes. Federer is more fluid and plays with greater style than his predecessor, but he doesn't possess quite the same power and, perhaps even more importantly, that same assassin's mentality that Pistol Pete had. Not yet anyway. If he eventually learns it . . . my God he could eventually dominate Wimbledon almost to the same extent that Sampras did. Federer's tennis this year, like last, has been quite sublime only even more relaxed. No sign of a repetition of the back spasm he suffered in his fourth-round match last year against Feliciano Lopez which was clearly due to nerves, and which may also have partly explained Amelie Mauresmo's back problems in her thrilling semi-final against the eventual runner-up, Serena Williams. There is no doubt that the Swiss already feels almost as much at ease at Wimbledon as Sampras did. The Championships suit his personality in the same way that they suited Sampras's. I think he appreciates the orderliness of it and for the same reason I think that's why he usually does well at a tournament such as the Hamburg Masters. The US Open is a little too crazy for someone of his persona, just as Paris and Rome are probably a little too emotive. Eventually, I'm sure, he'll figure out a way of winning at Flushing Meadows, just as Stefan Edberg did, and then there will be no holding him. He's not so comfortable on clay, though, so the French could be the last that he wins. But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here. First he has to deal with the exceptional firepower of Andy Roddick and, as I have said before, nothing negates skill quite like power; it's the ultimate equaliser, as I discovered to my own cost towards the end of my career. Roddick has the utmost respect for Federer; indeed all the players do. It isn't just the fans and the media who enthuse about him. Players talk about him with great reverence in the locker room, too. In fact, Mirca, his girlfriend, told me the other day that I should stop saying so many nice things about him because he was starting to get a bit too cocky. Apparently, he enjoys watching himself on television, but you can hardly blame the guy! I think this final will be closer than their semi-final meeting last year when, don't forget, Roddick had a set point in the first. Had he won that it might have been a different story. It's going to take a heroic effort on his part this time and it's on occasions like this when someone such as Brad Gilbert, his coach, can have a big input by keeping him focused on his game plan. If the American is serving bombs it's just possible he could win, perhaps with the help of a couple of tie-breaks. Federer, though, handles power incredibly well. He makes a 130 mph serve look like 100 mph. His anticipation is excellent and he covers the court so well. He's a lot quicker than many people realise. But holding serve, of course, is only half the job against Federer. Roddick would probably have to break Federer's at some time and so far that has been managed only twice at this Wimbledon - once each by Lleyton Hewitt and Sebastien Grosjean - and Federer's immediate response on both occasions was to break his opponent straight back. If he goes without being broken again today he will have equalled one personal Sampras record at least: the best the seven-time Wimbledon champion could manage was also the loss of just two service games en route to his fourth title, in 1997. It would be quite an achievement by Federer, given that he doesn't serve and volley much. Needless to say, an American victory would be quite appropriate on the Fourth of July. I remember I won my first Wimbledon on Independence Day in 1981 against Bjorn Borg. A Roddick win might even do more to help build a similar kind of rivalry to that which Borg and I enjoyed and which the game so desperately needs today. This, after all, is the match-up we had all been hoping for. Well, all of us except you Brits. Hopefully, it will make the crushing disappointment of Tim Henman's elimination easier to bear. I'm starting to think it's not going to happen for the British No 1. The window of opportunity is getting smaller with each passing year. He has to figure out a way of winning the 'easy' matches more easily. It must be mentally as well as physically draining for him to play the way he has done here. I feel exhausted just commentating on his matches. If only he could tap into the crowd's positive energy he would find it easier but, sadly, they take their lead from his own internalisation and remain as quiet as a library. I have to say I was surprised the way he played against Mario Ancic. Up until the quarter-final he had mixed it up when serving, coming to the net on some occasions, staying back on others. I have never advocated him staying back too much but, against the Croatian, for some reason, he decided to come in behind every serve and Ancic seemed to enjoy the target. Since there were very few rallies there was no way to get the crowd into the match, which was what he needed to do because his performance was so flat. Why, when he was two sets to love down, he didn't throw the guy a wrench, do something different, maybe even serve underarm, I do not know. It was a strange choice of tactics for someone of his experience. I was also surprised his match wasn't first on. He hadn't finished his fairly exhausting quarter-final against Mark Philippoussis last Monday until close to 9pm and I was concerned about his recovery time. Ancic shouldn't have been underestimated despite his ranking. After all, he beat Federer here two years ago. Once Henman lost that first set, he just seemed to deflate. For a guy who has never won a major, and doesn't have the ability of some of the other players around, an awful lot is expected of him. In the circumstances, four semi-finals and four quarter-finals in the last nine years as well as legitimising his position as a top-10 player after a serious shoulder injury are pretty incredible achievements. But it's going to take a mighty big prayer for him to improve upon that now.