| Itís just a matter of time before Federer becomes official world No.1
If Roger Federer wins the menís singles final Sunday, as I believe he will, it will establish him as the best player in the world, no doubt about it. Only Wimbledon can provide that seal of approval. Anyone who saw the magic of his tennis against Andy Roddick Ė my other pre-tournament selection Ė in the semi-finals will agree, I am sure, that it is just a matter of time before he becomes officially the worldís No 1.
But first he has to get over the hump of not yet winning a Grand Slam.
You can enthuse all you want about his talent and potential, but first he has to confirm it out there on a Centre Court before millions of viewers by winning a major. And the outcome of his final against Mark Philippoussis is far from being a foregone conclusion, even though Federer must be a strong favourite.
Wimbledon, down the years, has specialised in story-book endings and there are echoes of the 2001 tale, when Goran Ivanisevic won against all the odds, about the climax to this yearís event. The unseeded Philippoussis, a big server like the Croatian, is also a guy who has managed to put behind him a wretched time with injuries to find a momentum at these Championships.
And, in Federer, he meets a player not so very different to Pat Rafter in terms of shot-making ability, although I would say the Swiss is even more talented. So Federer needs to be on his guard, not only against Philippoussis but Wimbledonís penchant for happy-endings.
Roddick had been built up more than Federer, and I think many people were bracing themselves for a Roddick-Philippoussis final, but Federer has let his racket do the talking and, as a result, we have a great match in prospect.
Ever since Federer beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon two years ago, you just knew that one day this guy would win Wimbledon. He reminds me a lot of Pete. The American probably had a little more power in his serve than Federer and tended to flatten out his shots, but you can see from both Federerís general behaviour and his play on court that he idolised Pete, who is a good guy to emulate if you can.
Like Sampras, it seems, when he is not winning he is not interested, but when he is, it all seems so wonderfully effortless.
Winning Wimbledon would give him confidence to go out and do it again on other surfaces. While grass would seem like his ideal surface, I donít see why he shouldnít do better on hard courts Ė so long as he can come to terms, mentally, with the wear and tear of them. Or why he shouldnít overwhelm people with his skill on clay. That is not to say that someone like Andre Agassi, against whom he has a poor record, would not give him problems at the US Open if they met, but Federer would be walking a couple of feet taller at Flushing Meadows in August if he wins Sunday.
I won my first two majors at the US Open in 1979 and 1980, but it was not until I won Wimbledon the following year that I felt like I became the No. 1 player in the world. Those years I was winning the Open, I still felt like No. 2 to Borg. Federer will get a similar psychological lift by winning at Wimbledon.
While I think Philippoussis is a dangerous opponent, he may have to do more to win than just serve as well as he did against Agassi in the fourth round. Agassi had his chances and didnít take them. Federerís serve is more difficult to break than Agassiís, and he volleys better than the American.
Philippoussis is also going to be feeling it physically; he has played a lot more tennis than Federer has at these Championships and he had a hard match in the previous round against Alexander Popp. But adrenaline is a great antidote for tiredness and he will be grateful that grass is a lot more forgiving than other surfaces.
I think Philippoussis has a better chance than Roddick, because he will serve and volley a lot, so he is likely to put more pressure on Federer than Roddick did. But he is going to have to play as well if not better than he has done already in this tournament to win.
There is an element of unfulfilled potential about the big Australian, which he now realises himself, so time is of the essence. It just goes to show how difficult it is to win a Slam when someone of Philippoussisí ability is still searching for that elusive first success.
In this sport, though, you can never discount a big-hitter like him. Itís like boxing; Mike Tyson may not be what he once was but he will always have a puncherís chance. Even though I grew up with wooden rackets and the big-hitters were not as big as they are today, I know from personal experience that power can have a paralysing effect on an opponent and yet Federer doesnít seem to be the least bit intimidated by it. Against Roddick it was like, ĎA 130mph serve' Big deal. I can still get a lot of those backí, and thatís what he is going to do against Philippoussis Ė providing, of course, he doesnít flatter to deceive again.
When I met Federerís coach, Peter Lundgren, before the Championships, I asked him if they had done anything different in their preparation to maximise his potential this time. He is still only 21 but he seems to have been around for ages without winning a major, when, in fact, he has made steady improvement year-in, year-out. Peter said they had deliberately not played the week before the tournament and that they had avoided all media attention. He felt that they just needed to win that first Slam and more would follow.
I think he could be right.
Federerís style looks very easy; he doesnít seem to be putting a lot of strain on his body, whereas Roddick, big and strong though he is, appears to be making some physical demands on himself. That could be a concern, but injury notwithstanding, I can see these two enjoying an extended rivalry over the next five or six years. But the American will have to find a way of utilising the extra power he possesses.
What Tim Henman would not give for some of it. Time is running out for Britainís No. 1 to win this event, even though I thought he did well to reach the quarter finals again, given how relatively few matches he has played since returning from his shoulder operation.
I wouldnít argue that he needs to improve his service, but it was his volleying which let him down against Sebastien Grosjean in his quarter final. Well though the Frenchman played, I felt Henman should have won that match. He is never going to serve with the power of a Philippoussis, but he is going to have put more on both his first and second serves.
Spinning the serve, I think, sends out the wrong message. If it was I, I would toss it more to the right so that I was able to slice it more effectively. Thereís also more of an element of surprise that way about its direction. At the moment opponents are reading which way it goes.
His forehand has improved but then there are a lot of guys out there with good forehands, so it doesnít worry people. What worries them is to see him moving on grass in a way that many players cannot. Having said that, I watched some old videos of him recently, playing against Sampras, and he definitely used to move around the net more confidently then than he does now.