Andy Roddick finally earned the date he has been coveting for a full year now: A rematch in Sunday's Wimbledon's final with defending champion Roger Federer, who denied him the most prized title in tennis last year.
But Roddick's achievement may have come at too costly a price.
The American was on court for nearly 21/2 hours Saturday slugging away at Sweden's Thomas Johansson, who mounted a terrific fight in the conclusion of their rain-delayed semifinal before succumbing 6-7 (8-6), 6-2, 7-6 (12-10), 7-6 (7-5).
While Roddick was trading supercharged serves with the Swede, the Swiss Federer was taking it easy -- dropping by the All England club for a brief practice session and a chat with the media, followed by some stretching, a cup of coffee and a video review of his last two matches against Roddick on grass.
Federer is a prohibitive favorite to win the title Sunday, which would place him in rare company indeed, joining Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras as the only men to have won three consecutive Wimbledon titles in tennis's Open era. And Roddick's extended workday surely didn't help the underdog's cause.
"I hope it won't make a difference," Roddick said. "I mean, I think it's a little bit of an advantage. We played three pretty hard sets. There weren't a lot of easy points out there."
The match was on serve with Johansson trailing 5-6 in the first set when play was halted Friday.
Johansson, 30, bolted to a quick start when play resumed at noon Saturday, holding serve to force a tiebreaker. Roddick seized a 4-1 lead only to squander it, as well as two set points, dropping the tiebreaker, 8-6.
Roddick switched up his tactics in the second set, following his big serve to the net roughly 50 percent of the time. And he was rewarded with his only easy set of the match.
Puzzling, then, that he reverted to the baseline for the marathon third set. Johansson was most at ease behind the baseline, too, and they slammed serves and forehands back and forth until a tiebreaker was required to settle it. Neither gave an inch, and neither took much off his serve.
"It was pretty intense," Roddick conceded. "You don't start a tiebreak thinking it's going to go 12-10. Backwards and forwards. I was so keyed on the match, I wasn't focusing too much on what was going on around me for a change."
The fourth set was more of the same until fate intervened in the form of a net cord, the score knotted at 5 in the third tiebreaker of the match. With Johansson serving, Roddick walloped a return that tripped the cord and dribbled over, dying before the Swede could launch into pursuit. Up a mini-break, Roddick came up with a service winner to close the match.
"I was lucky," Roddick said. "The timing of it couldn't have been any better for me. You know, I felt guilty about it for a second, but then I got over it."
Roddick likely will need more such luck Sunday against Federer, who holds a 35-match winning streak on grass and has an 8-1 record against the American. And while 2005 has been a slightly sub-par year for the Swiss -- Federer missed the finals of the year's first two grand Slams -- he is unbeaten in his last 20 finals.
"There's no questioning that he's been the better player over the last two years," Roddick said. "I mean, that's a given. No one would argue otherwise. So the record's not really in my mind. The thing I try to think of is I have to be better tomorrow -- not for the next 10 years; not for the next whatever. I have to be better tomorrow."
Note: An unlikely pair of qualifiers upset Americans Bob and Mike Bryan to win the men's doubles final Saturday. Australia's Stephen Huss and South African Wesley Moodie defeated the second-seeded twins, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-7 (7-2), 6-3.