Sunday, July 5, 2009

Federer Perseveres: Secures 15th Slam After Titanic Struggle With Roddick

If the pressure of playing a Wimbledon final wasn't enough for Roger Federer, he could simply take a peek into the crowd at Sampras, Borg, Laver, and Nastase, all dressed immaculately, and whispering politely amongst themselves in the Royal box.

All this tennis luminescence, on hand to witness his crowning achievement.

What pressure?

As the Wimbledon men's final got underway, we were immediately treated to a glimpse of both Federer the immortal and Federer the human. Roger, surprisingly flat at times, and typically divine at others, seemed to be slipping in and out of both characters today on Centre Court.

And Roddick, seemingly impervious to the pressure and enjoying playing the role of spoiler yet again, also proved that he was not immune to it all. His epic meltdown in the second set tiebreaker happened just as Federer was slipping into his immortal costume. With four set points in the tiebreak, Roddick was one nasty serve from a two sets to love lead against Federer - something he had never held in their previous 20 encounters.

What has always been second nature for a power player like Roddick - strangling a tentative opponent when he's down - suddenly became impossible. He burned through set points like a tennis luminary burns through frequent flyer miles.

It was the beginning of the end for Roddick - before he had even realized that the match was his for the taking it no longer was. Or was it the end of the beginning? The way that Federer seemed to change from hunter to hunted, from believer to doubter, it was truly hard to tell.

This was a tense match from the beginning, with Federer unable to find the comfort zone that we typically see him in, and Roddick happy to benefit from that fact.

Neither player could challenge the others serve until the 11th game of the first set. It was Federer who earned the first opportunity to take the set, as Roddick committed a cluster of unforced errors (his first three of the set) and found himself facing not one, but four break points in total. On the third it appeared that Federer had broken through with a forehand winner, but a Hawk-Eye challenge by Roddick reversed the outcome of the point.

After fighting off the last of four break points Roddick quickly found himself with a chance to break the Federer serve. The Omaha native did just that, as Federer punched a down-the-line forehand wide and much to the surprise of everyone, the first set was Roddick's.

The second set was similar to the first, with neither player yielding on serve.

Federer, however, seemed to be playing under pressure. It was as if he was unsure as to whether or not he wanted to shed his human skin and slip into the velvety smooth epidermis of the immortal. One had to wonder if he had mistakenly perceived that the person across the net from him was Rafael Nadal. How could it be that he was in danger of going down 2 sets to love against his long time rag-doll?

However unimaginable, it was true.

Roddick's face wore a look of disbelief as he reeled off points in the second set tiebreaker. Then it happened. Roddick's meltdown coincided chronologically with Federer's uncanny and perfectly timed grace under pressure, and when the Americans backhand volley sailed several feet wide the two players were tied at the changeover, 6-6.

Two more points and the match was even. A colossal opportunity had been wasted, but Roddick, gritty American that he is, would not relent.

On the strength of his serve (27 aces in the match), Roddick managed to force a third set tiebreaker, but this time it was Federer who reeled off points, and while Roddick was able to fight off the first two set points, Federer was able to get the set point he needed by following up a booming serve out wide with a forehand winner.

Trailing 2-1, given the circumstances , it seemed that the time was ripe for Federer to turn on the afterburners and give the public a glimpse of the immortality that we've all gotten accustomed to seeing from him.

No such luck.

It was Roddick who scored the break, in the fourth game of the fourth set, and Federer could not answer.

Just as the last two Wimbledon finals had come down to a 5th set, so too would this match.

Roddick, now invigorated and adrenalized, seemed to sense victory.

Federer, meanwhile, seemed to be sensing defeat.

At the three hour mark the late afternoon sun was still making its presence felt on Centre Court.

The crowd, always dignified at Wimbledon, seemed neutral, almost distant from the match and detached from the the allure of Federer's greatness. They were like a human sponge, just taking it in, not feeling inclined to try to influence the outcome of the match.

Half way through the set neither had come close to breaking serve. If it was going to happen it was going to happen fast.

Beautiful and serene summer clouds floated overhead, contrasting with the tense flavor of the tennis.

While the rallies were succinct, the serving was brilliant.

The set was level at 5-5 with Federer serving almost as quickly as it had started. Now, one small hiccup of a game was going to determine the Championship. Two weeks of mental and physical warfare had been amalgamated into this immense pressure vacuum where every service game now represented winning or losing the title.

Federer with everything to lose, and Roddick with nothing to lose.

Shadows, finally making their presence felt in a small corner of the grass, just outside the tramlines.

Federer, in exactly the same spot that he found himself in last year, serving at 6-6 in the 5th set.

Make that 8-8.

Facing two break points in the 17th game, Federer slipped into his immortal costume to wiggle himself out of trouble. But always, he seemed to revert back to his other self when Roddick prepared to serve.

Roddick, meanwhile, was playing remarkably, blasting forehands the likes of which we'd never seen from him against Federer.

Yet more than anything, this match was a tale of two Federer's. And it would be decided eventually, one got the feeling, by the stronger of the two. Was he human or was he immortal?

Make that 9-9.

The Wimbledon record for the longest 5th set added to the dramatic flair, as the shadows finally worked themselves inside a small corner of the singles court.

Roddick a pillar of belief, Federer an undefinable pillar, a mixture of so much belief and doubt, a god seemingly stuck in his own purgatory, unable to break the Roddick serve for almost four hours now.

Make that 10-10, eclipsing the Wimbledon final record for games played in a match.

In the 22nd game, A small sliver of opportunity opened for Federer as he got to deuce on the Roddick serve, but it was quickly and confidently closed by a booming first serve.

Make that 11-11.

Shadows now covering significant portions of one half of the court. The crowd still refraining from encouraging either player too much, letting the action come to them, happy to be getting quite a bit more than their money's worth.

Make that 12-12.

This is clearly a battle of wills, a contest of belief, a test of mettle. Federer's 20th ace of the set gets him another hold, and another chance at the Roddick serve.

Make that 13-13. The word epic comes to mind, but I don't think it would do this fifth set justice.

Like a record perpetually skipping, this improbably pressurized match lingered on.

As if the gods of tennis were not happy with Federer's effort yet, as if they wanted him to truly work for it.

Make that 14-14. Shadows encroaching on the net.

Then, in the 30th game of the set, with Federer clinging to a 15-14 lead, a glimmer of light appears.

A break point for Federer is erased, but Roddick surrenders another one, and this one he can't erase.

This was the moment. Taken out of context it would appear to be just another point, but in the context of this match, and of Federer's career, it is ethereal. It is as magical as any of us could have ever imagined it to be. Roddick's flubbed forehand sails long and Federer has passed this long and difficult test.

The immortal Federer (the one who served 50 aces, including 22 in the 5th set), standing human and flawed at the door for the entirety of this grueling struggle, has now passed through. He's beyond all this - we can't judge him now. We can only marvel at his unparallelled success in the sport.
Federer prevails, 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 3-6, 16-14, over a heroic adversary who didn't deserve to lose.

His 15th grand-slam title and 6th Wimbledon championship came in the most improbable fashion. At times it looked like it wasn't coming.

We should have known better.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Men's Final Preview: Federer Eyes 15th Grand-Slam

Andy Roddick has never lost at Wimbledon with Brooklyn Decker as his wife.

Too bad for him that the theme of tomorrow's Wimbledon Final may very well be that records are made to be broken.

Wife or no wife, Roddick's chances against the 14-time Grand-Slam and 5-time Wimbledon champion look pretty bleak. His 2-18 record against Federer can attest to that, as can his 0-6 record against the Swiss Maestro in Grand Slams, or his 0-3 record against Federer at Wimbledon. Should I go on or do you get the point?

But there is something about the transformation that Roddick has undergone this year under the tutelage of newly hired coach Larry Stefanki, and the level of commitment and belief that he seems to embody these days, that is different from the Roddick of the past few years.

"I'm excited about this one," said Roddick. "I didn't know if I was going to get to play a Wimbledon Final again. I'm certainly thankful to have the opportunity."

But Federer has undergone a resurrection of his own over the course of 2009. Practically written off by everyone except for himself after his heartbreaking loss to Rafael Nadal in Australia this winter, the great Federer went into a tailspin the likes of which we'd never seen him endure.

His once fluid and easy grace seemed forced and mechanical - so much so that not even he could believe what was happening.

Then, in a strange and remarkable chain of events that seemed to start with Nadal's stunning upset in Paris, Roger became Roger again. It wasn't sudden. It was more like the evaporation of a lingering doubt that finally disappeared in the heat of a Paris spring.

That doubt is clearly gone now. Rafa's stunning upset and subsequent injury have opened the door for Federer, and he's clearly up to the task of walking in and taking what he's always believed to be his - the 15th Grand-Slam and the parking spot outside the tennis hall-of-fame reserved for "the greatest of all-time."

Tomorrow's final will be the third Wimbledon final between Federer and Roddick. Roddick took the first set of their first final, but he wasn't able to take another set, losing in '04 in 4 sets and in '05 in straight sets.

The pair have a long and one-sided history, with Roddick usually coming in to their matches like a lion and going out like a lamb. Roddick's patented booming serve seems almost docile when Federer is standing the other side of the net against him, and Roddick's kamikaze charges to the net against Federer almost always seem to end up in vain.

Even when Roddick has managed to play well enough to win against Federer, he's been unable seal the deal in tight sets - he's 3-10 in tiebreakers vs. Federer.

At times Roddick's failures have seemed to stem from psychological shortcomings - he doesn't really believe he can beat Federer so his body is just doing what his mind is telling it to do, but at others it just appears as if Federer is on another planet - a place that guys like Roddick only get to visit for a thrashing.

That being said, Roddick has clearly benefited from the hard work that he has done to get himself into top physical form this year. We've seen him outshine Novak Djokovic in the Australian heat this winter, and after a solid run (best of his career) in Paris, he's come to Wimbledon like a man on a mission. His win over Andy Murray yesterday may have been the most impressive of his career - not just the win but the fact that he outplayed Murray from the baseline, and tactically as well.

If there ever was a time that Roddick might believe that he could actually give Federer a match on a stage as grand as this, this could be it.

But Federer is so good at moments like these, it's truly hard to imagine him letting this golden opportunity to ascend to the peak of the tennis world once and for all slip by.

Not only will he become the only player to win 15 Grand-Slams with a victory - he'll also regain the no. 1 ranking that he lost to Rafael Nadal in August of 2008.

"If you achieved a lot like I did for so many years, and then you don't win some tournaments, people say you're on the decline very quickly," said Federer. "But I hope it opens some eyes at least these last few months, because they have been very different maybe from what people expected."

In mid March, not many people expected that Federer would be on the verge of rewriting the history books tomorrow, nor did they imagine that Roddick would be the man he would be trying to do it against.

Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's Wimbledon final, tennis fans can be sure they'll be pleasantly surprised when it's all over.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Williams Sisters to Meet in Fourth Wimbledon Final

Richard Williams absence in the coaches box can only mean one thing when the Wimbledon Women's singles final gets underway tomorrow.

Yet again, he's done his job.

The father and long time coach of the girls prefers to head home rather than watch his daughters try to dismantle one another on the court. "I can't even watch on T.V." said the outspoken Williams. "I can't watch my daughters play each other, I'd probably have a heart-attack."

The illimitable Williams sisters, who collectively hold 7 Wimbledon titles (5 for Venus and 2 for Serena), will notch number 8 tomorrow. That is a definite. The only thing that remains to be seen is which sister will hold up the Venus Rosewater trophy at Centre Court after the match.

And, as is always the case, flipping a coin might give you your best chances if you're looking to guess the winner.

In 20 previous matches, the dynamic sisters have scored 10 victories apiece. In 4 Wimbledon tilts, they have split 4, and in 2009, each sister has taken a match from the other, both in 3 sets.

The edge has gone to Serena when it comes to finals of Grand Slams, however. Serena has beaten her sister in two Wimbledon Finals (2002 and 2003), one U.S. Open final (2002), one Australian Open final (2003), and one French final (2002).

Venus, meanwhile, defeated her sister in the finals of the U.S. Open (2001) and at Wimbledon last year.

But Serena's knows that her sister has become more dangerous on the Wimbledon grass in the past few years. Venus is riding a 20 match winning streak, and she is also in the midst of a remarkable streak of 34 consecutive sets won.

"Well, you know, I feel like going into this final I have nothing to lose," said Serena when asked about the daunting challenge of playing her older sister on grass. "I feel like obviously she's playing the best tennis at this tournament."

She got that right. Along with winning every set, Venus has only dropped 19 games in the tournament, and has needed just 6 and a half hours to get it done.

Venus, while confident for many obvious reasons, is not taking her younger sister lightly. "Even if Serena is not playing her best it's just that fight that she has, you're facing that. So there's so much to face when you play her, it's definitely a lot to get your mind around."

Venus, playing in her 8th final at the All England Club, is looking to become the first woman since Steffi Graf in 1993 to win three consecutive Wimbledon finals.

Serena doesn't have quite the legacy at Wimbledon, but a win would give her an 11th Grand-Slam title, drawing her within one of the legend Billie Jean King, who closed her career with 12.

For three sets tomorrow the sisters will try to deny each other of achieving these milestones. But when it's all said and done they'll go home, share some dinner and have a good laugh about it.
How cool is that?

Murray Mania Up in Flames; Roddick Through to Finals

The pressure finally got to be too much for Great Britain's great white hope. Or maybe it was Andy Roddick that was too much. Either way you slice it, Murray Mania, that grand and glorious affair that was uniting all of Britain, and much of the tennis world, is now dead.

At least until next year.

Playing like a man possessed, hard-serving Andy Roddick made sure of it, denying Murray in his bid to become the first player from Great Britain to win Wimbledon since 1936, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6(5).

Serving at a 75 percent clip for the match, including 85 percent in the first set, Roddick was able to tilt the match in his favor from the very beginning of this highly anticipated affair. Even as Murray was able to win the second set, it seemed as if he was doing the greater percentage of the running for much of the match.

But that didn't stop the 22-year-0ld Scot from getting his opportunities against the Omaha native, who advanced to his third Wimbledon final with the win.

Murray had three break points against the Roddick serve in the first game of the third set. When Roddick fought off the third break point with a stab volley that died in the grass, there was a feeling that this might be the other Andy's day.

As the third set neared it's conclusion with Roddick clinging to a service break lead, Murray, urged on by the anxious partisan crowd, got another three break points while down 5-3. This time he only wasted one of them. On the second, a Roddick backhand sailed long and the match was on serve again.

Neither could make any more inroads on the other's serve, and the third set would be decided by a tiebreaker that would feature set points by both Andy's.

Murray was first to have the chance, but Roddick saved by placing an awkward drop shot just out of Murray's reach. After Roddick won the next point on his serve it would be Murray who had to save a match point. He did just that with a service winner.

Finally, a framed backhand by Murray gave Roddick his second set point on his serve. This time he did not miss, and the all-important third set had swung the match in favor of the underdog American.

In the fourth the Scot, much to the delight of the Centre Court crowd on this tranquil afternoon, had his chances yet again. As the shadows started their foray onto the playing surface, Murray managed to get to deuce from 15-40 in the 6th game of the set, but was coolly rebuffed by Roddick.

In the 8th game, Murray had his first break point of the set, but it was quickly erased by three very confident points from a clearly inspired Roddick.

Niether player would yield a break point for the remainder of the set, and another tiebreaker ensued.

Roddick look destined to cruise as he grabbed a 5-2 lead, but the resilient Murray was not about to pack it in. An exquisite drop shot led to a Murray winner that drew him closer at 5-4, and the crowd roared it's approval. Roddick took the next point and had the match on his racquet but Murray hit a passing shot that sent Roddick tumbling to the grass.

With Murray to serve at 5-6, the crowd did its best to quiet itself to let their hero concentrate.

Moments later, they were quiet for a different reason.

The last of Murray's 20 unforced errors on the day gave Roddick a spot in the Wimbledon final, with his old nemesis Roger Federer.

"I did better than I ever had before. I had some very good matches, and, you know, I thought I played good tennis," said a disappointed but very mature Murray. "I thought I dealt with everything that was sort of put in front of me well. You know, I'll come back next year and try and do better, but it was a good tournament, wasn't bad at all."

An elated Roddick was dignified in victory, showing that he sypathized with Murray's plight.

"To be fair, he had all the pressure on him, and I just kind of had to swing away," he said.

So the long winding trail of Murray Mania has reached it's conclusion. Now the collective energy of the British faithful will no doubt settle on the task of willing one of its greatest hero's of all time to his sixth Wimbledon title.

For Murray, his best-ever Wimbledon performance at the ripe age of 22 is an achievement that may not have lived up to the unrealistic expectations placed upon him, but it's nothing to scoff at nonetheless.

Hopefully for Murray and for Great Britain, this minor setback will set the table for the major victory that will someday come.

Federer Ends Haas's Senior Moment

Roger Federer had never lost in six Wimbledon Semifinals. Tommy Haas had never played in one.

Haas got to play. Federer, of course, got to win.

In what was a tight match in the first two sets, Roger Federer played the big points with his typical grace under pressure and ended up with a straight set victory in the first Wimbledon semifinal of the day, 7-6(3), 7-5, 6-3.

Though each of the first two sets weren't decided until the latter phases, Federer's domination on serve kept him in control throughout the match. The Swiss maestro did not face a break point in the 2 hour and 2 minute affair. Additionally, for the second straight match, Federer only lost 11 points on his serve (out of 83).

But it wasn't only Federer who was blasting away on serve. Neither player faced a break point in the first set.

In the first set tiebreaker, Federer was impervious to the pressure once again. He used a close call by the omnipotent Hawk-Eye that went in his favor at 2-2 to get over the top and take the set.

In the second set it was much of the same. Both players were serving hot on the grass, and even though Federer had more winners, and a set point in the 10th game, he didn't make his decisive move until the 12th game of the set.

A Haas error sealed the deal on Federer's third set point, his back hand sailing long, and Federer assuming a commanding 2-0 lead.

A far cry from being down two sets, as he was in Roland Garros against Haas, Federer was able to relax and switch himself into cruise control.

Another superior spell of serving all but buried the 31-year-old German. Federer lost only two points in his six service games in the third set, and fired 6 aces for good measure.

The beleaguered Haas wasn't able to make the third set quite as competitive as the first two. 11 unforced errors, compared to only 1 by the demure Federer, set the table for a Federer feast. An easy break in the 8th game of the set stuck a fork in the already cooked Haas.

The rest was academic.

If you bundled all your superlatives into one heaping pile and spit them out in one sentence, it wouldn't be enough praise for the remarkable tennis that Federer has given Wimbledon over the past seven years.

Seven straight Wimbledon finals. Five Wimbledon titles. Only one loss to the phenom known as Nadal since 2002. The list goes on and on, and finally it points to the one task that Federer has yet to accomplish: The 15th Grand-Slam title.

Only one match stands between Federer and yet another irrefutable piece of the argument for his unequivocal greatness.

It'll be a grand breakfast at Wimbledon, no matter who he plays.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Serena Ousts Dementieva in a Heartstopper; Venus Mauls Safina

The longest women's semi-final at Wimbledon since the Open era began in 1968 may have been the most nerve-wracking as well.

Talk about a gut check. This one was a heart and a soul check to boot.

Serena Williams, down a match point at one critical juncture, and facing all kinds of adversity throughout this tension-filled struggle, finally booked her fifth appearance in the Wimbledon finals with a 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6 victory over Elena Dementieva.

For Dementieva, it is the second consecutive year in which she has had her hopes dashed in the semi-finals by a Williams sister. It might have been different had it not been for the remarkable fight that Serena had to muster in order to survive this pressure cooker of a match.

After trading service breaks in the first two games, both players managed to hold serve for the rest of the 1st set. But even in the first set, this match was not without tense moments. Dementieva, who was remarkably sound from the baseline, had to fight off three break points at 3-4. While she benefited from Serena's 12 errors in the first set, it was also clear that she was getting the better of many of the baseline rallies that took place.

In the first set tiebreaker, Dementieva took a 6-3 lead, and after a double fault on her first set point, managed to serve it out.

As Serena broke in the first game of the second set, then raced out to a 3-1 lead, it was obvious that Williams was stepping up her game - she had gotten a whiff of the seriousness of her opponent, and was switching up her determination a notch as only Serena can do.

Still, Dementieva stayed the course. The Russian was bringing a new found intensity of her own to the match. She took the next three games and had two separate break point opportunities that would have given her a chance to serve for the match. A close call on the second went Serena's way via the Hawk-Eye, and it was enough to stem the tide, at least for a while.

Finally after breaking to go ahead 6-5, Serena was able to serve out the set (but only after exchanging many blows with the pesky Dementieva, who earned four break point opportunities in the game, all of them magically erased by Serena) and level the match at one set.

As the third set got underway, Dementieva continued to make life miserable for Serena. She snatched the first break of the set to go ahead 3-1 but it was just another challenge for Serena - undoubtedly the best pressure player of all the ladies on tour - and she broke back immediately.

Much to Dementieva's chagrin, what Serena lacked from the baseline she made up for with her serve.

Williams boomed 20 aces, including 8 in each of the last two sets - without this uncanny display of power serving alacrity, this match may have been Dementieva's for the taking.

Amazingly, at 4-5 in the third, it still was.

After nearly 3 hours of improbably good tennis, the Russian had her match point.

But Serena responded, as usual.

In a daring charge to the net (similar to ones that had failed earlier in the set), on the most crucial of crucial points, Serena made the volley of the tournament. A screaming cross court backhand by the Russian was intercepted with the full force of Serena's right arm. Neatly struck, that actually clipped the tape before flying into the open court, landing untouched several feet inside the baseline.

One woman's triumph, sadly, is another woman's tragedy.

Three games later it was over. Serena, once again, had found a way to will herself to victory.

Unfortunately, someone had to lose this match. As is typically the case in big matches, it sure as hell wasn't going to be Serena.

Venus Blasts Safina in Lopsided Tilt

All the suspense must have left Centre Court along with Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva.

Venus Williams had no mercy today, a she motored her way into yet another Wimbledon final, committing only 1 unforced error in her straight set lashing of Dinara Safina, 6-1, 6-0.

Safina, in getting blown off the court, has further solidified her reputation as a big match bridesmaid - she's lost three straight grand-slam finals in addition to this semi-final, and in the process has made the worlds No. 1 ranking look like a misprint.

But she wasn't facing chopped liver in the semis, as Venus has now won 34 consecutive sets on the Wimbledon grass, and only her sister Serena stands between her and her third consecutive Wimbledon title.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Women's Semi-Final Preview and Picks

All good things must come to an end.

Apparently, Venus Williams didn't get the memo. Or maybe she got it and threw it away.

The five-time Wimbledon champion has not lost a set on the grass at the All England Club since the 3rd round of 2007 - a total of 32 sets- and she doesn't appear to be about to lose one either, in spite of that ominous looking tape job that she has been sporting on her left knee.

Enter Dinara Safina. Could this be just the thing Safina needs - a match where the tennis world will certainly be expecting her to lose and perhaps to lose big, in order to force those squeaky nerves of hers to take a back set to her better half, the half that can hit scorching winners with the best of them?

Tomorrow's Wimbledon Women's semi-finals are a study in contrast. They feature a pair of American sisters who are high on confidence (neither have dropped a set all tournament) against a pair of Russians who are perpetually low on confidence (neither of them, in spite of getting oh-so-close oh-so-often, have ever won a slam).

It seems almost borderline pathological to expect anything other than a Williams sister demolition. It happens virtually every year, so why should 2009 be any different? Since 2000, 11 of the 18 Wimbledon finalists have gone by the last name Williams, and there have been three finals between the two.

It may be close to impossible, but, as Dinara Safina's favorite t-shirt says, "Impossible is Nothing." Now if she can just play like she believes it, fans may get their money's worth.

Here's a look at tomorrow's match ups:

1. Serena Williams vs. Elena Dementieva

Interesting and surprising fact: Dementieva has won 3 out of her last 4 matches against Serena. But when the pressure was really on in January in the Australian Open semi-finals, Serena returned to form to crush the soft-serving Russian, 6-3, 6-4.

In their only previous Wimbledon meeting way back in 2003, Serena put a 6-2, 6-2 whooping on Dementieva.

What can Dementieva do to neutralize Serena's powerful game? Probably not much. She'll have to play the best match of her life and Serena, for reasons beyond comprehension, will have to be uninspired.

Pick: Serena in 2

2. Venus Williams vs. Dinara Safina

Venus is looking to become the first woman to win three consecutive Wimbledon championships since Steffi Graf (1991 -1993).

Poor Dinara Safina, all she wants is just one Slam.

If she wants to get it at Wimbledon she'll more than likely have to go through both Williams sisters to get it. It's a long shot at best, even for the worlds No. 1 ranked player who has been the most consistent player on tour for pretty much all of 2009.

Safina is 1-2 lifetime against Venus, with that win coming in their last match this spring. But it won't do much to help her confidence because it came on the clay in Rome. That's a far cry from the grass of the All England Club, where Venus has won five of her seven Grand-Slam titles, and been to an additional two finals as well.

What can Safina do? Play like a maniac and hope for the best. If she doesn't leave everything she has on the grass, this one could be ugly, but hopefully not as ugly as Safina's Australian Open final against Serena where Safina remarked to the press after the match that she "was nothing more than Serena's ball girl."

Pick: Safina in 3

Federer Masters Dr. Ivo, Advances to 21st Straight Slam Semi

Not even shades could make the future look bright for Ivo Karlovic today.

Roger Federer notched a spot in his record 21st consecutive Grand-Slam semi-final by defeating the 6'10" Karlovic in straight sets on Centre Court, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (3).

Karlovic, who started the match with a streak of 78 consecutive service games without being broken, could only manage one hold against Federer before the streak was snapped.

Ten minutes into the match, Federer slapped a backhand winner past the flat-footed Croatian to gain his first break point. On the ensuing serve he slapped a forehand past Karlovic and the rest was history.

Federer's streak of 21 consecutive grand-slam semi-finals is a true testament not only to Federer's greatness, but also his consistency. Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver can attest to this. Each managed ten consecutive grand-slam semi-finals - brilliant no doubt, but paltry in comparison to what Federer has done.

Facing a man that kept his last four opponents at bay by raining a fusillade of aces on them, Federer was cool and calculated from the onset of this match. His only two break point opportunities yielded exactly what the Swiss Maestro needed - when he got his chances he proceeded to make his deadliest returns of the match, proving again that there is no one in tennis better at summoning brilliance when it matters most.

After breaking karlovic in the eleventh game of the second set, Federer consolidated easily to take the set and a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.

Remarkably, in ten matches against the giant Croatian, Federer has only suffered one service break. He did not even face a break point today, and he only lost 11 of the 85 points in which he served.

Karlovic, not achieving the results he had hoped for in his first ever appearance in a grand-slam quarterfinal, decided to remove the shades for the third set.

It didn't make much of a difference. Karlovic's final display of ruthless power serving (11 aces in the set and 2 more in the tiebreak) bought him a chance in a tiebreaker, but those chances were quickly squandered.

A few untimely errors later Karlovic used his tournament leading 160th ace of the tournament to fight off the first of four Federer match points.

It would only deny the inevitable. Such is the fate of mere mortals who try to usurp Federer's grass court magesty (unless your name is Rafa).

Federer will face Tommy Haas in the semi-finals on Friday, for a chance to play in his 7th consecutive Wimbledon final.