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Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Roddick has something to prove

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England – Andy Roddick had something to prove. To his fans, to the media and perhaps most importantly, to himself.

He struggled mightily through the clay season and at The Championships, a tournament in which he's expected to excel. In the quarterfinals, he slipped into a decisive fifth set against Sebastian Grosjean.

Two years ago, Roddick might have lost the same match. But not anymore. The second-seeded American dug a little deeper, broke, or as Roddick said, "slimed" one of Grosjean's serves and held on for a 6-3 fifth-set victory and a third straight spot in the Wimbledon semifinals.

"Now, more than ever, I needed a result like this," Roddick said of reaching the semis. "I wanted to prove that I'm still a pretty good tennis player. I'm not gone. I'm 22 years old, I'm still up in the world, still competing for Slams. I felt like I deserved a little bit of respect."

Before last week's second-round, five-set victory over Daniele Bracciali, Roddick had lost his last five matches that had gone five sets. There were rumblings that he never would be the elite player many expected upon his winning the 2003 U.S. Open at the age of 20. Now he's won two crucial five-setters in a row.

"One more and we might call it a winning streak," he joked.

Respect for Roddick poured in after the win. Grosjean, the French grass court specialist who had reached the last two Wimbledon semifinals, played well. He pressured Roddick for more than two hours and 45 minutes before finally succumbing in the fifth set. He believes Roddick not only has a chance to reach the final, but can beat whomever he meets there.

"If he's serving well and playing confident, he can beat anybody," Grosjean said.

Roddick dropped the first set, 6-3, to Grosjean Wednesday, but didn't panic. He cruised in the next two sets, 6-2 and 6-1. Aside from moving a step deeper behind the baseline, he said he didn't make any tactical changes.

"I didn't feel like I played a bad set," Roddick said. "I hit two bad forehands to get broken, but besides that I felt like I was in his service games. I just wanted to do more of the same."

The tension rose in the fourth set, when Grosjean broke Roddick's serve in the sixth game and fought off a feverish Roddick rally in the seventh to take a 5-2 lead. Two games later, the match was sent to a fifth set. Then, Roddick's serve took over and he fired five aces. He broke Grosjean in the second game and cruised from there.

"That's the game on grass," Grosjean said. "You have to accept. I have no chance to break. He's serving like amazing."

Up next for Roddick, who is the youngest player still alive in the tournament, is the oldest player – 12th-seeded Thomas Johansson. Johansson defeated David Nalbandian Wednesday, becoming the first Swedish semifinalist here since Stefan Edberg in 1993.

From here on out, Roddick said that he feels like the pressure is off him. While he still has visions of getting past Johansson and beating likely finalist Roger Federer on Sunday, the weight of proving himself is now gone. Excluding the French Open, Roddick has now reached the semifinals in five of his last seven Grand Slams.

"I feel freer," he said. "A lot freer. But I'd love to take it further. I'm not satisfied yet."

Two improvements to his game have helped Roddick's cause: playing more aggressively by coming to the net more and strengthening his return of serve. Roddick said he's found a groove on his return of serves and has not gone two sets in the tournament without breaking his opponent.

"I don't feel like it's forced right now, where other times, I'd go to the net, hit a shot and hope that something good would happen," he said. "Now I'm more focused on making something good happen."

In his post-match press conference, Roddick was his typical "HBO Comedy Hour" self. When a reporter asked how he kept from getting too confident and tasting or smelling a Wimbledon title too soon, Roddick said, "I don't know. What does it smell like? What does it taste like? Chicken?"

His last answer was even better. A British reporter asked if Roddick had ever experienced any on-court marriage proposals, like Scottish star Andy Murray and female diva Maria Sharapova received this week.

Said Roddick: "My fans don't think that long-term."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.