WIMBLEDON, England — Rising, rising, rising, high above the most famous patch of grass in tennis, Roger Federer channelled Pete Sampras on match point in the Wimbledon semifinals Friday, tucking both feet back beneath his body and uncorking an overhead smash.
And now, after years of chasing Sampras, Federer is poised to surpass him.
A victory over No. 6-seeded Andy Roddick of the United States in Sunday’s final at the All England Club would give Federer his 15th Grand Slam singles championship, breaking a tie with Sampras for the most in history. It also would give Federer a sixth Wimbledon title and a return to No. 1 in the rankings.
As it is, No. 2 Federer’s overwhelming 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 24 Tommy Haas of Germany in Friday’s opening match on Centre Court put the Swiss star in a seventh consecutive Wimbledon final and 20th career Grand Slam final — establishing two other marks.
“I’m very proud of all the records I’ve achieved, because I never thought I would be that successful as a kid. You know, I would have been happy winning a couple tournaments and maybe collecting Wimbledon,” the 27-year-old Federer said. “It’s quite staggering.”
Yes, Roger, it certainly is.
When he finished off Haas with that Sampraslike leaping putaway, Federer simply waited at the net to shake hands. Then he gave a little wave of his racket in the direction of his pregnant wife, his parents and other supporters in the guest seats above a scoreboard, before making the same gesture toward the Royal Box, where past greats of the game Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver were among the invited guests.
Winning a Wimbledon semifinal — indeed, any Grand Slam semifinal — is all so very been-there, done-that for Federer: He is 20-3 in major semis over his career, reaching 16 of the past 17 major finals.
“I know what’s on the line,” Federer said. “I hope I can play another good match.”
His previous match against Haas, on June 1 in the fourth round of the French Open, was much tighter. Haas won the first two sets that day — drew within five points of victory, even — before Federer came back en route to winning the title at Roland Garros to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Sampras with 14 Grand Slam championships.
This time, Federer was quite close to perfect. He won a remarkable 72 of 83 points on his serve, did not face a single break point and finished with 49 winners and only 15 unforced errors.
“You know, that’s the way it goes playing against him,” Haas said. “There aren’t really any weaknesses.”
Roddick celebrated rather emotionally after finishing off No. 3 Andy Murray of Britain 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) in Friday’s second semifinal. The 2003 U.S. Open champion, still seeking a second major title, dropped to his knees, leaned forward and covered his head with his hands.
Leaving the court, Roddick paused to enjoy the moment, thankful that all of the changes he’s made over the past several months paid dividends: tweaking his diet to drop 15 pounds, hiring a new coach, working more than ever to improve his returns, his volleys, his backhand.
“To be honest, the last couple of years, I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to play for another Grand Slam title,” Roddick said.
“Now I get to. It’s just a dream.”
This part might cause some nightmares before Sunday: Roddick is 2-18 against Federer, including losses in the 2004 and 2005 Wimbledon finals, as well as the 2006 U.S. Open final.
“I’ve had plenty of time to study his game, to understand his game,” Federer said. “He’s always played me also quite differently every single time.”
Then again, Roddick was 2-6 previously against Murray, who was trying to become the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since the 1930s and, of course, received plenty of partisan support from the 15,000 or so spectators.
Roddick joked beforehand he’d be pretending that all those shouts of “Come on, Andy!” were for him, but he was outsmarted: Instead of the usual first-name cheers, the crowd yelled support for their man “Murray!”
Didn’t matter. Roddick was too good on the most important points and that made the difference on a day Murray compiled more aces (25-21), more winners (76-64) and fewer unforced errors (20-24). Roddick won far more points at the net, 48-15, and put in a far higher percentage of first serves, 75-52, while hitting much harder than Murray, reaching a tournament-high 143 mph.
“If he serves like that,” Murray said, “he’s got a chance against anyone.”