Roger Federer wields a tennis racket as if it's an artist's brush, painting the court with a masterful array of slices and spins, touch volleys and poetically placed serves. The Wimbledon defending champion and No. 1 seed from Switzerland is both the critics' darling and the oddsmakers' choice to defeat Andy Roddick in the men's final Sunday.
Roddick, for his part, boasts with classic American bluntness about his strong suit against Federer's comprehensive palette of strokes.
"The one advantage I have over him is just hitting the crap out of the ball," Roddick said Saturday. "That's pretty much what I am going to have to do. I'm going to have to try to play to my strengths."
Federer holds a 5-1 edge in their matches to date, but Sunday's match will be the first time the two have met in a final. It is the final tournament organizers and tennis fans had hoped to see, pitting the world's top two players, each with contrasting styles, against each other.
Federer, 22, earned the right to defend his 2003 Wimbledon title with a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory over Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, who became just the second player in this tournament to break Federer's serve.
Roddick, 21, the defending U.S. Open champion, had to work a bit harder to advance to his first Wimbledon final, outlasting a spirited challenge by the hard-serving Mario Ancic, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
Both semifinals were contested over two days, halted Friday by rain and resumed Saturday at noon.
Leading 4-3 in the third set, with the first two sets under his belt, Federer needed less than 30 minutes to finish the job. But it wasn't without effort.
Grosjean held serve to even the set at four games, then went on to break Federer and force a tiebreaker, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Federer drew gasps as he ripped off the next five points, then closed out the victory on his fourth match point with an overhead smash.
The stat sheet testified to Federer's mastery. He and Grosjean finished with identical marks in several facets of the game -- including first-serve percentage (57) and unforced errors (25). But Federer registered 49 winners to Grosjean's 23.
The semifinal victory brings Federer's winning streak on grass to 23, which ties him with Pete Sampras. Now, only Roddick stands in the way of him bettering that mark.
If Sunday's match is a repeat of last year's Wimbledon semifinal, Federer will have much to celebrate. He was at his dazzling best that day, blowing past Roddick, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-3. Even the taciturn Federer looks back on it as an incredible match -- one of the most exciting of his career.
But Roddick isn't the same player he was a year ago. Though hardly as versatile as Federer, Roddick has upgraded his backhand and improved his second serve. He needed both, as well as considerable focus, to get past the unseeded Ancic.
Part two of the semifinal was moved to Court 1, to be played concurrently with the Federer-Grosjean match on Centre Court. As soon as Roddick tossed up his first serve, a band outside the court started playing and startled him. He was broken immediately and double-faulted on set point, allowing Ancic to even the match at one set.
Play was interrupted twice more by rain, which added to the tension for both players, who were sent off court for 45 minutes in the third set and for 21 minutes just before the fourth set started.
Ancic kept the pressure on, and Roddick countered with his strong weapon: his lightning serve, which was clocked at 153 mph earlier this year, the fastest in the world. He lived and died with the stroke one year ago. This year, he has a formidable second serve to fall back on.
Roddick also has a grass-court record that's nearly as impressive as Federer's: 21-1 over the past year, with his sole defeat coming at the hands of Federer here a year ago.
Sunday on Centre Court, he'll get the chance to measure his progress against the defending champion's.
"I think we've both become better players," Roddick said. "We've both been through a lot more. We've both played a lot of big matches. We'll see what happens."