London, July 5 (AFP): With Australian serve machine Mark Philippoussis standing in the way of sizzling Swiss star Roger Federer the Wimbledon men’s singles final will be marked by an intriguing clash of styles as both men chase their first Grand Slam crown.
Federer, the artiste, turned in a performance of such brilliance in seeing off semi-final rival Andy Roddick, the US fifth seed, in straight sets that it is hard to believe he can maintain the same level across Sunday’s trophy match.
The bandana-clad 21-year-old from Basle has been waiting to claim the mantle of king of Wimbledon ever since he roasted Pete Sampras on Centre Court two years ago in the fourth round and now looks the real deal for the future of the men’s game.
At 19 years of age the challenge came too early against Sampras and Tim Henman knocked him out in the quarters.
Two years on, however, it seems little can stop Federer becoming the first Swiss champion at the All England Club after he crushed Roddick 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-3.
Yet Philippoussis, though he may be only ranked 48 to four for Federer, has two distinct advantages as the duo prepare to face off on the most famous Centre Court in the world.
The 26-year-old from Melbourne has a Grand Slam final under his belt having gone down to fellow-Aussie Pat Rafter in the 1998 US Open final.
Then there is that serve, the one that has brought 164 aces in his past six matches.
While Federer is mustard keen to prove he can move from the level of potential champion to the stage of actually getting his hands on the ultimate prize, the same desire burns no less brightly in Philippoussis after almost two years spent fighting a succession of knee injuries.
The Australian has defied predictions that heavier balls and thicker and hence slower-playing grass would neutralise his booming serve — which has brought him 86 per cent of points played on his first serve thus far.
In seeing off Sebastien Grosjean, the French 13th seed, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-3 in his semi-final, Philipoussis, bidding to succeed countryman Lleyton Hewitt as champion here, beat a player who scampers around and plays the full gamut of shot in similar fashion to Federer himself.
“It feels like I’ve been away for six years,” Philippoussis said regarding his injury nightmare.
But now the man based at Cardiff-by-the-Sea in California is living the dream as he looks to learn from the experience of his US Open loss to Rafter, twice a Wimbledon runner-up, five years ago.
“A lot of tennis players when they are kids dream of winning Wimbledon. The history this tournament has is great. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to be part of it. But Roger can do anything on the court — so it’s not gonna be easy,” said Philippoussis, who beat Federer on clay in Hamburg six weeks ago to score his only success in three previous meetings.
“This is grass — it’s a totally different surface, a totally different day. I’ve been through a lot — but everything in life happens for a reason,” said the Australian as he looked back to his injury hell.
Federer, meanwhile, goes into the final with praise from Roddick ringing in his ears. The American came in having won the title at Queen’s Club whereas Federer chose to pick off an eighth career title and first on grass at Halle, where he became the first player to win tournaments on all surfaces in the same year since Sampras in 1998.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody out there more talented. He’s a great athlete,” Roddick said of his conqueror, who showed no signs of the back trouble which had plagued him earlier in the week.
With Philippoussis bidding to claim as many “free” points as possible on his serve, Federer will again have to find the form that did in Roddick’s hopes.
“I know it’s going to be difficult to keep the same level — I’m just really looking forward to this moment because it’s a dream, I think, for anybody to be in his first Grand Slam final.”
Federer said a factor in his favour was that his final opponent is a greater risk taker on serve.
“He’s got less margin than maybe Andy has, especially on the second (serve),” says the Swiss on a roll who will accept whatever fate has in store for him on Sunday. “If I don’t win I’ll try again to come back.”
Philippoussis can tell him that in tennis, there is such a thing as a second chance.