Rising, rising, rising, high above the most famous patch of grass in tennis, Roger Federer channeled Pete Sampras on match point in the Wimbledon semifinals Friday, tucking both feet back beneath his body and uncorking an overhead smash.
And now, after years of chasing Sampras, Federer is poised to surpass him.
A victory over No. 6-seeded Andy Roddick of the United States in Sunday's final at the All England Club would give Federer his 15th Grand Slam singles championship, breaking a tie with Sampras for the most in history. It also would give Federer a sixth Wimbledon title and a return to No. 1 in the rankings.
As it is, No. 2 Federer's overwhelming 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 24 Tommy Haas of Germany in Friday's opening match on Centre Court put the Swiss star in a seventh consecutive Wimbledon final and 20th career Grand Slam final - establishing two other marks.
"I'm very proud of all the records I've achieved, because I never thought I would be that successful as a kid. You know, I would have been happy winning a couple tournaments and maybe collecting Wimbledon," the 27-year-old Federer said. "It's quite staggering."
Yes, Roger, it certainly is.
When he finished off Haas with that Sampraslike leaping putaway, Federer simply waited at the net to shake hands. Then he gave a little wave of his racket in the direction of his pregnant wife, his parents and other supporters in the guest seats above a scoreboard, before making the same gesture toward the Royal Box, where past greats of the game Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver were among the invited guests.
Winning a Wimbledon semifinal - indeed, any Grand Slam semifinal
is all so very been-there, done-that for Federer: He is 20-3 in major semis over his career, reaching 16 of the past 17 major finals.
"I know what's on the line," Federer said. "I hope I can play another good match."
His previous match against Haas, on June 1 in the fourth round of the French Open, was much tighter. Haas won the first two sets that day - drew within five points of victory, even - before Federer came back en route to winning the title at Roland Garros to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Sampras with 14 Grand Slam championships.
This time, Federer was quite close to perfect. He won a remarkable 72 of 83 points on his serve, did not face a single break point and finished with 49 winners and only 15 unforced errors.
"You know, that's the way it goes playing against him," Haas said. "There aren't really any weaknesses."
Roddick celebrated rather emotionally after finishing off No. 3 Andy Murray of Britain 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) in Friday's second semifinal. The 2003 U.S. Open champion, still seeking a second major title, dropped to his knees, leaned forward and covered his head with his hands.
Leaving the court, Roddick paused to enjoy the moment, thankful that all of the changes he's made over the past several months paid dividends: tweaking his diet to drop 15 pounds, hiring a new coach, working more than ever to improve his returns, his volleys, his backhand.
"To be honest, the last couple of years, I didn't know if I'd ever get a chance to play for another Grand Slam title," Roddick said. "Now I get to. It's just a dream."
This part might cause some nightmares before Sunday: Roddick is 2-18 against Federer, including losses in the 2004 and 2005 Wimbledon finals, as well as the 2006 U.S. Open final.
"I've had plenty of time to study his game, to understand his game," Federer said. "He's always played me also quite differently every single time."
Then again, Roddick was 2-6 previously against Murray, who was trying to become the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since the 1930s and, of course, received plenty of partisan support from the 15,000 or so spectators.
Roddick joked beforehand he'd be pretending that all those shouts of "Come on, Andy!" were for him, but he was outsmarted: Instead of the usual first-name cheers, the crowd yelled support for their man "Murray!"
Didn't matter. Roddick was too good on the most important points and that made the difference on a day Murray compiled more aces (25-21), more winners (76-64) and fewer unforced errors (20-24). Roddick won far more points at the net, 48-15, and put in a far higher percentage of first serves, 75-52, while hitting much harder than Murray, reaching a tournament-high 143 mph.
"If he serves like that," Murray said, "he's got a chance against anyone."
There was only one break point in the first set, and it came with Murray serving while trailing 5-4. Murray went ahead 30-love, but Roddick took the next four points, showing off some of the newfound versatility in his game. He got to break point with a drop-shot winner on a 10-stroke exchange. And he ended the set with a booming backhand down the line that forced Murray into a forehand error on the point's 17th stroke.
The stands were close to silent, and it was clear Murray needed to do something to get the fans - and himself - going. He did just that, breaking Roddick at love to open the second set, then holding with the help of three aces in a row to go up 2-0.
After serving out that set, Murray was on the verge of beginning the third the exact same way. But Roddick saved three break points to hold for 1-0.
"You're probably not going to get out of a love-40 hole too often against a guy who returns like him," Roddick said. "So that was definitely key."
Roddick broke to 3-1, and at 5-2 was two points away from taking the third set. But Murray eventually broke back and, in the tiebreaker, he held a set point at 6-5. On a 13-stroke exchange, Roddick misplayed a forehand volley in such a way that it turned into a winner.
"He apologized," Murray said.
Moments later, Murray shanked one forehand long, then dumped a passing try into the net, and Roddick owned the lead and momentum. Less than an hour later, Roddick owned the match, improving to 26-4 in tiebreakers this season when he smacked a forehand approach shot and Murray put a backhand into the net.
A year ago, Roddick lost in the second round at Wimbledon, prompting some serious soul-searching. He was traveling in the States the day of the 2008 Wimbledon final, which Federer lost to nemesis Rafael Nadal 9-7 in the fifth set in fading light. Roddick wound up staying at the airport to watch the end of the match on TV.
Now it will be Roddick trying to beat Federer with a Wimbledon championship at stake.
And Federer trying to beat Roddick with history at stake.
"Obviously you can't really say enough to kind of signify what Roger's career has been to this point," Roddick said.
As for Federer's bid to collect No. 15, Roddick said: "I'd love to delay it for another Grand Slam."
By AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson