| Roger Federer celebrates his semi-final win over Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon on Friday. The Swiss world No. 1 won 6-3, 6-4, 7-6. (Reuters)
This may not be the right time to say it, with Roger Federer on the verge of claiming Wimbledon title No. 3, but I think as time goes by we will see what a remarkable achievement it was by Pete Sampras to win here seven times. I donít think the Swiss, as good a player as he is and maybe even a better player than the American when compared over all surfaces, will surpass his record.
Iím not saying itís impossible and I do believe that he will win, maybe, as many as five Wimbledon titles. I just think that there is more depth in the game today than there was in Samprasí era; guys who could step up on the grass, like Rafael Nadal and Marat Safin. The big Russian threatened to do so this time, but in the end, as usual, left the championships prematurely.
When Federer gets to five then we can start talking about his chances of overhauling Pete; not before.
Power and physical strength will always be the greatest threat to Federer because he has just about everything else in his game and, of course, no little power himself. Itís why Andy Roddick has a chance in the final. A puncher will always have a chance. Power can be paralysing, as I found to my cost towards the end of my career. It can shut you down.
It would have been tough for me to beat Federer in my prime because while I had an all-round game like him, it wasnít quite as good as his. I would have come at him, but I would have posed him less of a threat than someone like Sampras or Boris Becker. These guys had serious power. I remember playing Becker in an exhibition match in Atlanta in 1985 when he had just turned 18 and thinking, ďHow does a guy serve this big at this age'Ē He had the biggest serve in the history of tennis.
He would have played his game against Federer and come at him. I would have loved to see it. I know Sampras lost to Federer here in 2001, but he was a little past his best then. He had, of course, a better serve than Federer ' second serve particularly ' and he would hit the lines with it with his power, too. Even if you got the ball back, it was not as if the point was won, you then probably had to deal with his volley. I know Boris shares the view with me that Sampras would still have had the edge on Federer on grass.
In my position nowadays as a commentator it can be difficult to comprehend how physically strong todayís players are, or how difficult conditions are when youíre cocooned away in that air-conditioned booth. Itís one of the reasons why I like to get out and feel things, walk the courts and have a hit with players. I had a hit with Safin before his third-round match against Feliciano Lopez. I was really looking forward to seeing if I could return the ball when he rifled one at me. I wanted to fully understand what facing his kind of power was like.
Unfortunately, he seemed to hold back a bit ' perhaps he took pity on the old man. If youíd asked me afterwards Iíd have said he wasnít ready to play which, as it turned, was probably right. Yet I feel we were given a glimpse this summer of the kind of challenge he can offer Federer on grass. We already know what threat he poses to him on hard-courts from his semi-final victory over Federer in the Australian Open, but I think his narrow three-set defeat to Federer in the Gerry Weber Open in Halle told us that he can be a danger to him on grass, too.
Safin has unbelievable power. We saw it against Mark Philippoussis and even in the first round against Paradorn Srichaphan. Roddick has comparable power in his serve and forehand and he has to believe it will be enough to carry him through today. It was very nearly enough in last yearís final when he played the best I have ever seen him play. I would advocate him trying to blast Federer off the court again, in the final, although if it doesnít work he may have to come in occasionally behind his serve, if only to unbalance Federer.
One of the things that Roddick has in his favour is that Federer cannot prepare to face the kind of power which the Texan can lay on the line. Itís not like he can turn to Tony Roche, his coach, and say, ďGet me a guy who can serve at 140-150 mph to hit withĒ. Judging by chats Iíve had with Roddick in the locker room recently it would seem last year he was more confident but wasnít as fit as he would have liked to have been.
This year heís fitter but less confident, which is understandable after some of the losses heís had to endure in the last nine months against Joachim Johansson (US Open), Nadal (Davis Cup final), Lleyton Hewitt (Australian Open) and Ivan Ljubicic (Davis Cup), not to mention a tough time on the European clay courts.
Roddick isnít a natural serve and volleyer. Heís working on being more comfortable at it. Itís knowing when to do it thatís the key, which is a problem Tim Henman has had on grass in recent years. Federer turned last yearís final around after the rain delays by coming more to the net when he noticed Roddick tired a little. Changing strategy during the course of a match is one of the championís strengths.
He has spoken about wanting to volley more in order to make life a little easier for himself, and when you look at his game you wonder why he doesnít do it more often because he has a big serve and he can certainly volley. I think he enjoys floating around on he baseline and while he can dominate matches from the back there sees no reason to come in, although I think it would be a smart move because it would just add another string to his bow.
Finally, while still on the subject of defending titles, young Maria Sharapova found out how difficult it is to do it when youíre expected to, but sheís got many more years to discover the knack of how to do it. Serena Williams, on the other hand, thought she could regain hers by working hard for one week. Iím sorry, Serena, as talented as you are, one weekís hard practice isnít quite going to cut it.