A June 30 Sports article incorrectly said that Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt has won one Grand Slam title. Hewitt has won two: the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002. (Published 7/12/2005)
-- Andy Roddick's three tournament victories this season ought to suggest that he's finally on his way to fulfilling the promise and unloading the burden of having been labeled the next great tennis player. But as Roddick well knows, he can hoist all the trophies at pro stops in Houston, San Jose and West London's Queen's Club that he likes, but it won't come close to conferring the legitimacy of one Wimbledon championship.
Roddick moved a step closer to that longed-for achievement Wednesday, becoming the last man to advance to Wimbledon's semifinals with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over his friend and frequent sparring partner, Sebastien Grosjean of France. Up next is Thomas Johansson, a 30-year-old Swede with a well-rounded game who last made headlines by winning the 2002 Australian Open.
Should Roddick prevail in their semifinal Friday, he'll compete for Wimbledon's title for a second consecutive year Sunday, facing one of the two players he respects most: world No. 1 Roger Federer, who drew on his rarely needed defensive skills Wednesday to dismiss Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2); or second-ranked Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, who ousted Spain's Feliciano Lopez with similar ease, 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).
To the delight of tennis fans, Wednesday's results placed Wimbledon's top three seeds in the semifinals. And all four semifinalists know what it takes to win a Grand Slam. Federer, Wimbledon's two-time and defending champion, has four titles; Roddick, Hewitt and Johansson have one apiece.
Of the bunch, Roddick, 22, was the only player pushed beyond three sets Wednesday. But rather than jarring his confidence, the five-set battle with Grosjean appeared to buoy Roddick, who arrived at Wimbledon having lost his last five five-set matches. He ended that dismal streak in the second round, presented with a spirited challenge by Italian qualifier Daniele Bracciali. After dispatching Grosjean in 2 hours 45 minutes Wednesday, Roddick was particularly pleased that he had managed to keep an even keel as his fortunes ebbed and flowed against the Frenchman, who deftly varied his pace against the hard-slugging American.
"There was a lot more heat on me coming into this tournament," said Roddick, who hasn't advanced to a Grand Slam final since losing to Federer last year at Wimbledon. "I wanted to prove that I'm still a pretty good tennis player. I'm not gone."
Hewitt has his own point to prove at Wimbledon, having been seeded third in the tournament he won in 2002 rather than second, as his No. 2 world ranking would suggest. According to Wimbledon's rulebook, the "Order of Play" committee can stray from the rankings in seeding players if it feels the evidence warrants. In Hewitt's case, the panel dropped him to third because he was sidelined three months this spring after breaking two ribs in a fall at home. Roddick, ranked fourth, was installed as the second seed (leap-frogging Hewitt and third-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is regarded as a clay-court specialist) partly in deference to his status as Wimbledon's 2004 runner-up.
Until Wednesday, Hewitt had sidestepped questions about the seeding, preferring to convey his unhappiness through gritted teeth. But after his straight-sets victory over Lopez, which propels him into the more difficult of Friday's semifinals (against Federer), Hewitt offered this observation: "It's a strange situation. I don't know how many times it would have happened that the top two ranked players would be playing in a semifinal in a Slam."
Asked to comment on the controversy, Federer was true to his Swiss heritage. "I think the way Andy played the last two years, I think he deserves to be number two" seed, Federer said. "But also Lleyton deserves to be number two because he's number two in the world. It's a tough call."
The fact that anyone is fretting over the fine hairs that separate Wimbledon's Nos. 2 and 3 seeds isn't just tennis minutia. It's a testament to the supremacy of Federer, who not even the most arrogant player relishes facing -- particularly with a cherished dream in the balance.
As the tournament's second seed, Roddick won't meet Federer until the final, assuming both get there. As the third seed, Hewitt draws him in the semifinal. Neither has reason to like his prospects. Federer has beaten Hewitt the last seven times they have played; he also holds an 8-1 career record over Roddick.
"He's probably the most talented person to ever carry a racket around -- the shots that he can come up with, the way he's kind of become a totally complete player," Roddick said of Federer.
Federer came up with a stroke of particular beauty against Gonzalez on Wednesday. With the Chilean serving at 5-6 in the first set, Federer chased down a drop shot from a starting spot at least a yard behind the baseline, stuck out his racket and ladled the ball at such an impossible angle that it may as well have taken a 90-degree left turn once it cleared the net.
"He's obviously the best player in the world for a reason," Hewitt said. "But you've still got to go out there and make him play his best tennis."