LONDON: They turned the clock back a few years at Wimbledon on Friday as a man in a headband reached the men's final along with a ferocious serve machine.
Roger Federer took the headband from the Bjorn Borg school of tennis and the multi-faceted game from Pete Sampras as he put US fifth seed Andy Roddick through the mill to win 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-3 and become the first Swiss man to reach the final at the All England Club.
The 21-year-old from Basle is also through to his first ever Grand Slam trophy match.
While Federer took his style cue from two former greats with 12 singles crowns between them, Australia's Mark Philippoussis showed that, while the balls may be heavier this year and the grass thicker and slower-playing, a massive serve will always be a major bonus at this particular Grand Slam.
The score may have been the same as the 26-year-old from Melbourne walloped French 13th seed Sebastien Grosjean by a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-3 margin – but the manner in which it was achieved bore scant resemblance to Federer's win.
While both men reacted with clenched fists at their moment of triumph, whereas Federer was unassuming as he fulfilled some of the potential latent since his fourth-round win here over Sampras two years ago, his protagonist Philipoussis was burning inside.
Many of those watching the drama unfold on centre court knew why.
Philippoussis came here having missed the better part of two seasons after three major bouts of surgery on his left knee – spending almost three months in a wheelchair as he endured the nightmare every top athlete dreads.
The burly Aussie was a US finalist in 1998 but lost out to compatriot Pat Rafter just weeks after suffering the first of what would become three consecutive Wimbledon quarter-final reverses.
But after 1hr 56min against Grosjean the man who has lived up to his nickname of Scud with 164 aces in the tournament so far had become the eighth Australian man to make it to the final here.
Now he will go all out to succeed compatriot – and first-round flop – Lleyton Hewitt as champion.
“It feels like I've been away for six years,” said Philippoussis of his injury nightmare.
The world number 48, now based at Cardiff-by-the-Sea in California, added he would try to learn from the experience of his loss to Rafter five years ago to break his Grand Slam duck.
“It was my first time – it was a totally new experience for me. First of all it was my first Grand Slam (final), second I was playing a country man in Pat,” said Philippoussis.
Rafter would go on to reach two Wimbledon finals – and lose both.
But Philippoussis, who revealed that Hewitt had already offered congratulations, said he would not dwell on such thoughts.
“I'm just going to play exactly how I've been playing. It's another match for me. Roger can do anything on the court – so it's not gonna be easy.”
Philippoussis' father Nick has also fought back from recent illness and the star said his trials and tribulations had taught him an important lesson, win or lose on court.
“My family is number one priority in my life – not tennis,” he insisted.
Federer, whose win over Roddick made it the first time since 1982 that both men's semis had been over in straight sets, said he felt it would be his day once Roddick missed a routine forehand on set point in the opening set tiebreak.
“My first set was definitely important. I felt like everything was under control. I was happy that he missed that forehand – it could have changed the match. For me it was important just to stay focused.
“I felt I was dominating the match. I hit some unbelievable shots today. It's nice to do it in such a big match,” said the Swiss, whose performance merited the standing ovation it received from an appreciative crowd.
“I guess you don't get very often standing ovations after three sets!” – AFP