King Roger has come down from the North and the Wimbledon Crown is Safe No More
Many people had written Roger off earlier this year. It is easy to confuse the emotion that he showed with weakness after the Australian Open final.
The truth is there are few people in tennis that have the burning desire to win that he has.
And if it were not for a single person his rule would have been absolute over the last 4 years. However, if Rafael Nadal had not come along maybe he would not have ever continued to hone his game year after year.
He has now matched the Grand Slam record of Pete Sampras. A feat that a few short years ago was considered impossible, or if not so would not be challenged for decades.
At 27, he is still quite clearly in his prime. He will likely add another few Slam titles to the record that he plans to shatter tomorrow.
This is helped somewhat because his arch nemesis is sidelined with a knee injury. Based on recent history, Nadal would likely have been standing in his way of shattering the Slam record.
But this tells a great deal of the Roger Federer story. He is unrelenting and still wants to win Slam #15 as much as he wanted #1. That persistence to stay in the fight when everyone seemed to have given up on him is why he is getting a shot at immortalizing himself in tennis history.
And what a difference a few weeks make. 127 people stood in the way of this achievement two weeks ago. Now only 1 remains, Andy Roddick.
Since Andy's back-to-back appearances in the final in 2004 and 2005, his performance at the tournament has not been at that incredible level. The most disappointing of those follow years was 2008, when he lost to Janko Tipsarevic in four sets in the second round.
A year ago most of the tennis community would not have given Andy much of a chance to make it to the Semi's much less the finals of Wimbledon. But this isn’t the Andy Roddick of a year ago.
If you have been watching him play over the last two months, it is obvious that a lot has changed. He is faster, fitter, more aggressive from the baseline and on return of serve. He appears to be improved in nearly every aspect of his game when compared to recent history.
On paper this is supposed to be a routine match and in three quick sets, Roger Federer gets Slam #15. In head to head matches Federer leads 18 -2.
Andy's two wins were on hard courts, again emphasizing that this should be quick match with Roddick providing little resistance to Roger’s assault.
But if it were that simple there would be no reason to watch tennis and this article would be talking about Andy Murray vs Roger Federer. On paper there was little likelihood that he could lose to Andy Roddick in the Semis.
So we are left with two options, trust the stats or use them to figure out how this could be an interesting match. Hopefully, you will choose the latter. If not you will likely miss out on one of the biggest events in tennis this year if not in our lifetimes.
Now for a quick rundown on what makes these guys two of the best grass court players of this generation.
There was a time that everyone thought that Andy was a big serve and a forehand. That time has passed. Make no mistake though; Andy can crack forehands with anyone.
At one point a couple of years ago, I believe that Darren Cahill commented that Andy can get a little to defensive in the way he plays his forehand and was too "Spinny" when that happened.
Apparently Larry Stefanki agreed. Andy is hitting his forehand as hard as anyone now. The new frightful change is the severe angled winners he is hitting at Wimby.
He has hit service return winners during this tourney with such sharp angles that you would think that the shots were hit by Federer or Nadal.
These changes in his forehand will likely play heavily in determining the outcome of the match.
Forehand Rating: 5.0 out of 5
If you are an opponent looking at this from the other side of the net, you have two choices, concede the point or pick a side, sprint to it and hope you have guessed right.
The only problem with that is that Rog can somehow wait for you to make that decision. Once you do, he simply hits the ball where you are not.
You could easily right a book on Rog's forehand. He has incredible variation of pace, spin and direction. It is unlike anyone else on the tour in that regard.
And then there is the addition of the sneaky drop shot...
Forehand Rating : 5.2+ out of 5
While Ivo Karlovic has supplanted Andy as the service ace king of the universe, much of the serving prowess is based on this height.
Karlovic can hit most places in the service box because the fact that he hitting down on his serve. This requires much less reliance on spin.
Andy's serve is not much slower than Karlovic but it has far more spin on it. You may hear some describe it as "work". The spin makes the serve harder to track for the returner.
Andy's rapid delivery gives many of the players great difficulty as well.
The bad news is that Roger Federer was the first player to completely master returning Andy's serve in the 2005 Wimby Finals. Within a few months many others began to return his serve well.
Andy is serving much smarter and no longer just trying to blast people off the court with speed. His Kick serve in the AD court should cause Rog a few headaches on return of serve. This is because it may expose the one minor weakness in Roger's backhand.
Serve Rating : 5.0 out of 5
While not a powerful as Andy's serve, Rogers disguise and precision placement means it just isn't required.
For most of last year, Rog's first serve percentage was low enough that it was costing him games that he had been winning in the past.
Over the last couple of months that has changed. He now wins large numbers of free points on his serve. As an example he hit 16 aces and just two double faults when playing the french open final on clay. His first serve percentage was 65%.
At the Austrailian open final it was a different story. 11 aces, 6 double faults and a first serve percentage in the 51% range.
As always his serve can dig him out of tough situations. For differing reasons, Rog and Andy are virtually even on serving capability.
Serve Rating : 4.95 out of 5
Roddick Backhand 2.0
Somewhere over the last two years, Andy made some fundamental changes to his backhand. If you look at this photo closely you can see one of the changes.
One critical change is that both of his elbows are bent. This may seem like a small deal but it has created a far more lethal backhand.
A few years ago, many analysts and some tour players felt that they could win a match by just continuing to hit to his backhand and leaving an opening down the line. The story was that he could only hit the two-hander reliably cross court.
Apparently he was likely to have many unforced errors when hitting down the line partly because he hit the backhand so flat. This meant hitting the ball close to the net when hit hard, increasing the risk of unforced errors.
This is a really big deal for a tour level player to overhaul a stroke like this. Not only does it risk derailing ones winning style, it requires lots of practice and confidence in the changes to pull it off in match play.
Backhand Rating : 4.2 out of 5
Rather than use a picture of the topspin backhand that we see Rog hitting so often, this is a picture of the backhand stroke that usually sets it up.
The short slice is one of Roger's signature grass court shots. The low bounce and the fact that the ball skids gives players with more extreme forehand grips great difficulty. It is also the way that Rog draws people into his trap.
Only players with an extraordinary ability to move from the baseline to the net (transition game) can return this shot with enough authority and placement to defend against it. When you have passing shots like Federer, this is an excellent way to end a point quickly without having to go to the net himself.
This is going to be slighty less effective with the re-tooled Andy Roddick as he will get to this ball sooner and have more options on his response.
Federer has one Achilles heel in his game. The shoulder high topspin backhand. There are likely a lot of reasons for this but beyond the physical strength required, it may have something to do with his short, well-disguised backswing.
It is difficult to read whether Rog is going to hit a slice or topspin backhand because of the backswing he uses. It appears that he has difficulty generating the same racquet head speed on this shot compared to those in his strike zone.
If Andy can hit high heavy topspin forehand down the line to Rog’s backhand it could prove useful.
Backhand Rating : 4.5 out of 5
And the Winner is .......!
Despite the fact that Andy is a much improved player, the winner of this match will likely come down to Roger's ability to deal with the pressure of reclaiming his prized Title and that of solidifying his position as the best ever. With Rafa out of the way momentarily, Rog seems to be serenely calm.
Prediction Federer in 4 sets. Unless the pressure gets to him. Then it could be 5 sets.