January 29, 2009 -- In just over thirty minutes, Roger Federer had the first set. He had broken Andy Roddick twice. It didn't look like a good evening for the American, and it wasn't.
Roger Federer did what Roger Federer does in a semifinal. He elevated his game and pushed through to his 18th final in a major. Federer took Roddick apart, demoralized him, and sent him to the locker room to ponder his next strategy. Roger is now 16-2 head-to-head with Andy.
"Both of us had pretty good stats," Andy said in his press conference. "You know, he just came up with shots when he needed to. That's what he does."
Federer served twice the number of aces as Roddick, a reversal of fortune for the Swiss maestro. Federer showed more versatility, as he has done throughout the tournament. No one can beat him in that department.
Roger continued to strike the ball on the rise and positioned himself just behind the baseline or inside of it, taking away valuable time from the American. In the third set Andy attempted to take the ball early. However, his timing and familiarity with that tactic fell flat on its face. It's one thing to groove into a new strategy during a practice session, but another to execute it in the semifinal of the Australian Open with Roger Federer across the net.
Roger gave Andy nothing in the way of break chances -- zero, to be exact. In the second and third sets, the players stayed on serve. At five-all Roger broke to make it 6/5. He then served out each set 7/5. Like Andy said, he came up with shots when he needed them.
Andy Roddick, though, is an American hero. He deserves the title, too. He hired world-class Coach Larry Stefanki at the end of last year. He surrendered to a diet, workouts and practice regimes that left him more agile, with more endurance, and faster. He put in hours without knowing if many benefits lay at the end of the tunnel.
His faith in Stefanki and his commitment to tennis -- Grand Slams and Davis Cup -- spurred him on. Andy Roddick, after close to ten years on tour, has more heart than some other top-10 players. He may have skyrocketed onto the tennis scene at 18 and quickly secured a major title. But the well has been dry since then. You have to give Andy credit. He is a hero because he perseveres, rolls with the game, and constantly tries to reinvent himself in the face of extremely stiff competition that continues to beat him back, such as Roger Federer.
Gilles Simon pressured Rafael Nadal in their quarterfinal match because he would engage him in a lengthy rally with "easy" groundstrokes, wait for the right situation, then bam... smack an inside-out, cross-court forehand or Gilles' favorite... a down-the-line backhand zinger. Even Jet Boy Nadal didn't have a chance to return those shots.
And just like Roger Federer, Serena Williams elevated her game at the right moments today in her semifinal match against Elena Dementieva. The American went up a break in the first set and never looked back, closing it out at 6/4.
Dementieva was up a break in the second set. She probably thought she could hold, win the set, and extend the match. The longer the match went, the better her chances of making her way to her first Grand Slam title. With the best match record of any female player so far this year, you could rightfully say that Dementieva deserved to win this match. However, as has been the case in the past, her serve dissolved. She double faulted twice in one game to lose the break in the second set. The green light came on for Serena, who served better today than she had in previous rounds.
Dementieva's serve has been a well-argued topic. Watching her struggle to get the ball in play distracts fans from her fine ground-game, speed, and competitive nature. However she will never maintain a top-three ranking, let alone the number one spot, until her serve becomes a reliable weapon.
Dinara Safina played the big points like a champion today, in her semifinal match against Vera Zvonareva. Safina upped her level of play when it mattered most. She is known for her big comebacks. Against Alize Cornet, Safina came back from two match points down (2/5) and won the set and match 7/5 in the third.
If Serena Williams gets a good head-start on Safina in the final, the #3 seed will have a hard time catching up unless the American melts down completely. Dinara hits just as hard as Serena, but Serena's serve -- if on -- could separate the two in the end.
Serena Williams is hungry for Grand Slam #10. Dinara Safina is hungry for Grand Slam #1. In a matter of time we will know if Safina can stomach the scale of the stage she steps on, and if Williams can consistency string together games that firmly show the tennis world her mettle.