— WIMBLEDON, England - Roger Federer won’t say it publicly, but he has to be delighted that he’s facing Andy Roddick and not Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final, and not only because the Swiss is 18-2 in his career against the American.
Going against the Scot, Federer would have had to deal with the intense British crowd heavily supportive of Murray in hopes he could become Britain's first Wimbledon men’s singles champion since Fred Perry in 1936. And Murray owns a 6-2 mark in his career against Federer.
Federer vs. Roddick became a reality when the Swiss swept past Tommy Haas, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3, and the American did away with Murray, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5).
Federer is a strong favorite in the final as he bids for his sixth Wimbledon title, and his 15th Grand Slam title, which would break the record he currently shares with Pete Sampras. I expect Federer to reach both of those goals. Roddick might push him to a fourth set, but that’s as far as he’ll get.
Federer is playing phenomenal tennis. It wasn’t too long ago that people were saying what’s happened to Federer. After his French Open win last month, that talk went away. Part of what prompted that talk was that after Federer missed six weeks with a bad back earlier this year, he admitted he kind of doubted himself on the court. Those doubts no longer exist.
He looks completely comfortable, calm, but also able to raise the level of his intensity in big spots. All elements of his game are clicking. His serve is looking good, his return is in top form, and his passing shots are solid. If you’re Federer, you have no complaints with the tennis you are playing.
The Swiss’ confidence is soaring as well. That not only has to do with how he’s breezed through his six matches at Wimbledon, but also with his having won the French Open, making him only one of six men to record a career Grand Slam. His triumph on clay has him feeling awesome. One can see that in his play on the lawns of London.
Even with a chance at making history staring him in the face, Federer is relaxed. He seems immune to the pressure. He’s not wrapped tight, and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything.
We’ve seen a different Roddick at Wimbledon. A lot of credit must go to his coach Larry Stefanki. Under Stefanki, Roddick has dropped about 15 pounds, and tactically Stefanki is one of the best coaches in the game. Every player he has coached, he has helped in a big way.
While Roddick is known for his booming serve (he got 75 percent of his first serves in against Murray), there are other parts of his game that are worth noting. Roddick’s backhand, never a strength in his game, is way better, and he is creating winners off of it. His arms are still completely straight and stiff, so it’s not like he has changed technique. He just seems more willing to go for bigger shots off of it, and drive through it more. He’s not guiding it quite as much. Opponents used to pick on his backhand, but that’s a much tougher task now.
He is playing at the net a bit more, and is playing better there. He’s also moving better because of the weight he has lost. And his shot selection, patience, and controlled aggression have also improved.
Stefanki seems to have Roddick’s confidence up, and he has him believing in himself when he steps on the court. Mental outlook is a big part of the equation of winning matches, especially tough ones at the majors. Belief level makes such a big difference when a player needs to come up with a big shot at a critical time.
Obviously, when Roddick steps on the court against Murray, his lack of success against Federer will be on his mind. He has to keep telling himself he’s a new and improved player, and he can’t put too much pressure on himself. Of course, that easier said than done.
Roddick, who has won one major (the 2003 U.S. Open) and been to four finals of Grand Slam events, said he wasn’t sure he would ever again make the final at a major. Well, he has, but the ending won’t be good for him. It will, however, be historic for Federer, who will cement his place as the greatest player of all-time.