|07-06-2004, 07:15 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jun 2004
one more article...
by Anderw Baker
This was not a classic encounter, as Federer rarely reached the heights of sublime skill of which he is capable, and Roddick's moments of aggressive inspiration were too often interspersed with horrid errors. But there was no lack of incident to warm up the shivering crowd as Roddick served bombs and Federer batted them back.
The American came out fighting, sending down three aces in his opening service game, threatening his 145mph record for the fastest serve at The Championships. His ground-strokes were working pretty well too, a big forehand in the third game forcing a backhand error from Federer and the match's first break of serve.
At 3-2, the light rain which had been falling became a little more persistent, and the players left the court for half an hour. The resumption brought no resurgence in form from Federer, who was an oddly listless, lacklustre presence. His celebrated touch seemed to have deserted him, and while there were moments of inspiration – a backhand taken at ankle-height, a beautifully judged lob – they were few and far between.
Meanwhile, Roddick was rampaging around Centre Court using his racket to bludgeon anything he could reach. Not every shot went where he intended it to, but such was his power that if he got the ball any more than a yard away from his opponent and still within the court the point would be his.
The American soon zipped up the first set, but at 0-1 in the second played one of those inexplicably horrible games that he is prone to. The gunsight fell off his bazooka serve, and he dropped it, with a double fault, to love. He managed just a single point in his next service game, and Federer, through no great exertions of his own, was back in the match.
So out of sorts was the defending champion, though, that his 4-0 lead quickly disappeared and he struggled before finally serving out the set 7-5.
Roddick quickly regained the initiative, and an American victory on Independence Day looked likely when the rain returned and the players left the court with Roddick 4-2 ahead in the third.
We don't know what Federer got up to in the locker room, but whatever it was he returned to court a changed man. Gone was the air of puzzlement or preoccupation, and in its place came the confidence and assurance that we have become so used to. Winners immediately started to flow from his patriotic, red-and-white racket, Roddick's break was soon annulled and Federer dominated the subsequent tie-break to lead two sets to one.
The seventh game of the fourth set was crucial. Federer's fabulous backhand forced Roddick into errors and a wayward forehand gifted the Swiss the break. From then on there was no deviation from the route to the title, and championship point brought an ace from Federer, who promptly fell to his knees with joy.
Maria Sharapova had greeted victory in exactly the same way the previous afternoon, though the celebration was about all that the two matches had in common.
While the men flailed around searching for their best form, the Russian girl's progress to her first Grand Slam title was, to borrow an adjective from her opponent, serene.
The hallmark of Sharapova's 6-1, 6-4 victory over the defending champion, Serena Williams, was tactical acumen, which may seem surprising given that the Russian claimed not to have given the match a great deal of thought before walking on to the court. "I didn't have a big tactic going in to this match," she said afterwards. "I was just there to go and play my game and figure out a way to win, figure out what I needed to do just to get used to her game a little bit. I did that pretty fast."
No doubt about it. A comfortable pair of games on her own serve – no sign of nerves – and a sighting shot at the Williams serve, and Sharapova was ready to attack. She set up the crucial early break with a wonderful forehand that so disconcerted Williams that she made a string of errors.
It soon became clear that Sharapova was favourite to win any exchange of more than four shots, so that if she could survive the Williams serve, and get the ball back into play any old how, the advantage would soon pass the Russian girl's way.
This is easy enough to say, but some of the balls she kept in play would have been unplayable by anyone else except perhaps Williams' sister, Venus. Sharapova's lanky frame gives her tremendous reach, which she couples with athleticism and superb racket control to make the almost impossible seem routine.
When Williams ran out of options and started to come to the net, Sharapova's response was audacious. Williams first such venture was greeted with a forehand that smacked her in the mouth; her second and third with exquisite lobs. Each shot epitomised the self-confidence and self-belief that brought the 17-year-old the first of what will surely be many Grand Slam titles.