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Federer takes on Roddick, history at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON (AP) – A year ago, plenty of people were feeling sorry for Roger Federer. They were sending him letters with good wishes or — believe it or not — tennis tips. They were offering advice about how to deal with a perceived drop in performance and ideas for how to beat Rafael Nadal.

"If you achieved a lot, like I did, for so many years, and then you don't win some tournaments, people say, 'Oh, you're already on the decline,' very quickly," Federer said Saturday. "I hope it just opens some eyes, these last few months."

Yes, indeed. Look at Federer now.

When he steps onto Centre Court to face No. 6-seeded Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final Sunday, Federer will be trying to collect his 15th Grand Slam singles championship, breaking a tie with Pete Sampras for the most in history.

Also at stake for Federer:

•a sixth Wimbledon title;

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•a chance to become only the third man in 40 years to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season;

•a return to No. 1 in the rankings, a spot he ceded to Nadal 1 1/2 months after losing to the Spaniard in last year's epic final at the All England Club.

"Obviously, you can't really say enough to kind of signify what Roger's career has been to this point," said Roddick, who is hoping to win his second major championship.

Asked about Federer's bid for No. 15, the American replied: "I'd love to delay it for another Grand Slam."

Federer is playing in his seventh consecutive Wimbledon final and 20th Grand Slam final overall, both records. It's also his 16th final in the past 17 major championships.

The only one he missed in that span was at the 2008 Australian Open, where Federer lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Federer later said he'd been recovering from mononucleosis at that time, but still, the chatter began: What's wrong with Roger?

"Sometimes," he said, "it's not fair towards certain players."

Federer then lost to Nadal in the French Open and Wimbledon finals, and fell to No. 2 in the rankings after a record 237 weeks at the top. But Federer won a fifth consecutive US Open in September and, after a five-set loss to Nadal in the Australian Open final in January, completed a career Grand Slam by winning his first French Open title last month.

That allowed him to tie Sampras with 14 major championships.

"Records are part of this great match right now," Federer said, looking ahead to Sunday, "so it's obviously even more of an incentive to try really hard."

Roddick won the 2003 US Open, but he is one of the many unfortunate souls who chose to play tennis for a living and happened to have been born around the same time as Federer: Roddick will turn 27 in August, a few weeks after Federer turns 28.

Roddick is 2-18 against Federer over their careers. That includes 0-7 at Grand Slam tournaments, 0-3 at Wimbledon, with losses to Federer in the 2003 semifinals and 2004 and 2005 finals at the All England Club. Roddick also lost to Federer in the 2006 U.S. Open title match.

"He never gives up. It hasn't been easy for him the last few years. Americans have a lot of expectations. They were spoiled with Sampras and (Andre) Agassi and all those before that. For them, it's not good enough to have someone in the top 10; they want somebody who is No. 1," Federer said. "It's great to see him back in a final."

Roddick hit 43 aces against Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals and reached a tournament-high 143 mph against No. 3 Andy Murray in the semifinals.

"I always said that serve makes him so dangerous. No matter what surface you play him on, no matter where you play him, how bad the record is for him, he'll always have that shot," Federer said. "He not only has a great first serve, but probably has the best second serve in the game. That's what makes it hard to break him."

The man Federer beat easily in the semifinals, Tommy Haas, was far less charitable.

"Andy Roddick is playing some of his best tennis that I've seen. Playing extremely well. Serving well," Haas said. "But I wouldn't give him really a chance to beat Roger in the final. Maybe take a set. That's my opinion."

To be fair, this is a rebuilt Roddick.

"You don't go back to a Wimbledon final by accident," he said. "It certainly is a process. And it's probably been a longer process than I would have liked."

After a second-round exit at Wimbledon in 2008, he sat down with then-girlfriend Brooklyn Decker — they were married this April — to discuss his future in tennis.

"That was a hard, hard couple of weeks. You know, Brook and I had a lot of talks on ... if I still thought I could play and at least be towards the top of the game. I definitely openly questioned it at that point," Roddick recalled. "So this offseason, we said, 'You know what? If you're not going to be up there, let's at least not wonder. Let's prepare yourself and give yourself every opportunity.'"

He dropped 15 pounds. He hired a new coach, Larry Stefanki. He focused on improving his backhand, volley and return.

All of those elements have been on display this fortnight.

"When you lose in the second round in an event you feel like you can win, it really irritates you. It gets under your skin, and you don't forget that," Stefanki said. "He's very motivated. There's a lot of good things that can happen if he stays relaxed, because he's done all the hard work now. Now he's just got to trust himself and play ball."
 

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