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TENNIS

Andy Roddick advances to the semifinals at Wimbledon

His five-set victory against Lleyton Hewitt sets up a showdown with Britain's Andy Murray.

July 02, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Had you attended the top American male tennis player's melancholy post-loss news conferences at the last three Wimbledons, you might have wound up needing a pep talk, an ice cream cone or maybe even a hug.

Had you listened to him on Wednesday night at Wimbledon, you might have wound up chortling, giggling or maybe even laughing.

Andy Roddick has returned to the high clamor in tennis and found his first Wimbledon semifinal since 2005, and when he strides into one of the most blaring ruckuses you will have ever heard Friday on Centre Court in a Wimbledon semifinal against Andy Murray, he'll tote along that serve, that fresh boost from his five-set endurance of Lleyton Hewitt and that wit.

"I'm just going to pretend when they say, 'Come on, Andy,' they mean me," Roddick said.

They won't, of course, because they've got 73 years of noise bottled up and ready to hurl at anyone with the effrontery to try to foil the No. 3 Murray as he attempts to become -- sing it again -- the first Briton since Fred Perry in 1936 to win Wimbledon.

And then, steeped in various droughts as they've been around here, Murray also could become the first since Henry "Bunny" Austin in 1938 to reach the men's final and maybe even entice the Queen for a day of tennis-viewing, if not necessarily the Wave.

The sheer din of it figures to make an undercard even of Roger Federer in his record 21st consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, even as it's very hard to drown out a five-time champion whose booming returns of 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic's booming serves Wednesday sometimes seemed supernatural. It figures to obscure a perfectly appealing story in Tommy Haas, the 31-year-old German who has revived himself from shoulder surgery, reintroduced the bizarre practice of serve-and-volleying and gained his first Grand Slam semifinal in the northern hemisphere (and fourth overall).

It takes one heap of commotion to occlude all that, but luckily, Roddick adores commotion.

"Andy loves big matches," said Larry Stefanki, Roddick's coach since last winter. "I don't teach him how to handle big-crowd matches. You don't have to teach that to a guy like him. . . . No, I think he loves it. It's a Davis Cup match."

As Stefanki talked animatedly, the former coach of John McEnroe and Tim Henman and Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Gonzalez walked across the Wimbledon grounds from Roddick's 6-3, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 endurance of Hewitt, the re-energized 2002 champion. He had seen in Roddick something that maybe did not prevail when Roddick did not prevail in 2006 against a 19-year-old Murray (third round), in 2007 against Richard Gasquet (quarterfinals) or in 2008 against Janko Tipsarevic (second round): the ability to stem negativity and say, as Stefanki put it, "That point is gone. Next case."

Bad vibes did hover in the meandering match against Hewitt -- as with a dreary chipped forehand into the net off a mere 95-mph second serve while holding one of three lost set points -- but were not invited to linger. "He's turning into a man," Stefanki said of the 26-year-old. "He's not like a reactive type of junior player."

His first five-set win in a Grand Slam since the 2007 Australian Open round of 16 against Mario Ancic can "pay dividends," Stefanki said. He's "growing as a top-level athlete." Weathering such a fracas "has a tendency to make you relax when you're there again. I think this is going to free him up."

Consensus holds he'll need every ounce of freedom against Murray, arguably the world's best returner of serve, plus 6-2 against Roddick. Even as he approaches this Andy Bowl looking more svelte than before and saying, "You know, I'm in better shape now than I was when I was 24," a dour and expert voice chimed in Wednesday evening.

It belonged to Hewitt, who said, "A couple of years ago I saw them play here because they were in my section, and Murray took care of him convincingly. And Murray's a lot better player now than he was then. Roddick's going to have to play a hell of a match to beat him."

Considering he'd reached the finals in 2004 and 2005, that match Hewitt saw in 2006 left Roddick frustrated, the Gasquet match in 2007 left him devastated, and the Tipsarevic match in 2008 left him saying he felt as if he'd seen the Rolling Stones from the front row but now got stuck seven or eight rows back, unable to see over the really tall people in front.

But now, back in the semifinals, back in the commotion?

"Getting closer," Roddick said. "I can see what Mick Jagger is wearing now."

--

chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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