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Roddick, Federer set up showdown in final

| Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006

NEW YORK - Andy Roddick smacked a 135 mph service winner, leaned back and screamed, then nodded his head as he jogged to the sideline, knowing he was one set away from a U.S. Open final showdown against Roger Federer.

Jimmy Connors, Roddick's new guru, stood and applauded, enjoying his pupil's work. And 42 minutes later, Roddick's day was done, finally subduing Mikhail Youzhny, 6-7 (5), 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-3, on Saturday in the semifinals.

Now comes a far tougher task: facing No. 1-ranked Federer, the first man since Rod Laver in 1961-62 to reach six consecutive Grand Slam finals. The two-time defending champion flashed all of his many talents in a 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko in the first semifinal.

"I'm just going to go out and throw it all at him. I'm just going to go for it. Just play the way I have. We've been simplifying it," said Roddick, 18-1 since pairing with five-time Open champion Connors this summer. "If the guy plays too well, then he plays too well. But I'm not going to lay down."

Easier said than done, of course. Federer is 10-1 against Roddick, including wins in the 2004 and 2005 Wimbledon finals.

"It's obviously more difficult here, because of the crowd and ... playing an American and everything," Federer said. "And the only time I lost against him was on hard court. Wasn't here, but was on hard court."

Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open and finished that year at No. 1, but he's still seeking his second major championship. He was stunned in the first round at Flushing Meadows a year ago, part of a crisis of confidence that led to a 10-month title drought and a brief slip out of the top 10.

Ah, how things have changed.

"He has more game," Connors said. "He does a few things different and a few things better."

It all starts with the serve, of course, and after one 139 mph offering in the final set, Roddick yelled out: "Too big!"

"I've been in a groove this whole tournament," Roddick said. "I feel like I'm hitting my backhand pretty solid here, even using it as a weapon up the line, believe it or not. I'm returning OK. Mentally, I'm in a good place right now."

All of that was on display against Youzhny, who was trying to become, at No. 54, the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since the ATP computer ratings began in 1973.

The first five points of the match showed how far Roddick has come. He won them all, and what was impressive was the sequence: He hit a 123 mph ace, hung in on a 14-stroke exchange until Youzhny made an error, laced a volley winner, unleashed his big forehand for a winner to hold serve at love, then began Game 2 by charging the net behind a return.

Roddick wound up losing that first set, distracted during the tiebreaker when Youzhny held up a hand to ask for time right before serves. Roddick complained to the chair umpire then and later, and eventually Youzhny stopped.

But what Youzhny did most to rattle Roddick was simply return brilliantly, even getting back a couple of 140 mph serves. Youzhny even broke Roddick in the match's third game -- and then didn't so much as hold a break point the rest of the way.

"If Andy will serve really well, he has chances," Youzhny said. "If Andy serves not so good, I think he don't have any chance."

Roddick was limited to 14 aces, but the most revealing statistic was this: He played for nearly three hours and wound up with 18 unforced errors. Youzhny had 48.

Youzhny compiled more winners, though, and he hit three in a row to erase Roddick's first three match points. Roddick hit an ace to earn a fourth match point, and Connors pointed his index finger down toward the court -- like a catcher calling for a fastball -- and shouted, "Right now!"

"I don't know if we locked eyes," Connors said, "but he heard me."

Roddick complied, snapping off a volley to end it, then raised his arms and looked around at a crowd that spurred him on.

"I'm going to go enjoy this for about five minutes," Roddick said, all too aware of his record against Federer.

Davydenko fell to 0-8 against Federer, who never was in trouble yesterday.

In Davydenko's guest box there were only two seats taken, by his girlfriend and his brother, Eduard, who also is his coach. Federer's box was full, including his girlfriend (who doubles as his business manager), his agent and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Her presence was appropriate, though, when you consider how stylish Federer's play is. He pounded serves and forehands but also showed tremendous touch by repeatedly slicing backhand returns that befuddled Davydenko.

Federer committed only 17 unforced errors and held a 30-19 edge in winners.

"He's No. 1, and that's why I think he's winning everything -- because he plays really different," Davydenko said. "He was too fast."

When the crowd hushed during points, it was possible to hear every ounce of Davydenko's effort, loud exhales announcing his exertion. Federer's exhales were whispers by comparison.

After one 19-stroke exchange in the first set, when Federer made two great saves, and Davydenko eventually sailed a backhand long, a fan shouted out, "Nice defense, Roger!" After a pause, the fan yelled, "Nice offense, Roger!"

That captured it perfectly: Federer does it all so well.

"Roger has proven this week, if you're not playing well, he's going to step on you pretty hard," said Roddick's brother, John, part of the revolving door of coaches preceding Connors.

By the final set, Federer appeared to be using the semifinal as something of a practice session, working on his volleying. After losing to No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, then beating him in the Wimbledon final, Federer now turns his attention to another player whose days of trying to create a rivalry appeared to be in the past.

"Federer certainly is the No. 1 player," Connors said, standing a few feet away from his boss in the locker room, "but there's a third name now in the mix, which is the way it should be: Nadal, Federer and now Roddick."

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