Game, set, mismatch

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:20 PM ET

WIMBLEDON -- On another dark and stormy day at Wimbledon, Lleyton Hewitt was happy with his game yesterday -- and that, by itself, is problematic for tennis.

The clouds and rain came afterward. The defeat of Hewitt was dimming enough for a sport in search of something better.

Roger Federer didn't think he played overwhelming tennis and that further complicates matters for the men's game.

You see, you can be the No. 2 player in the world, as Hewitt legitimately is, and you can be thrilled with your play and still come away losing three straight sets to Federer in the Wimbledon semi-final.

Fifteen straight lost sets in a row for those counting at the dreary knockdowns.

Eight straight defeats for Hewitt against Federer.

You get the point.

One of the great matchups in men's tennis remains a mismatch with the gap between Nos. 1 and 2 widening rather than growing closer.

This is the curse and the charm of Federer all at the very same time. He is that complete, that self-assured, that dominant in a strange, non-dominating kind of way.

And the frustration of Hewitt, offering no answers, is rather evident.

"I feel like I've lifted my game in the past 18 months or so," Hewitt said. "I've got no doubt that I feel like I'm the second best player going around right at the moment. It's just that the best player going around is pretty bloody good."

The best player going around beat Hewitt 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4 in the tie-break) to breeze to his third straight Wimbledon final. If you're expecting him to lose tomorrow -- no matter who emerges from the rain-delayed Andy Roddick-Thomas Johansson semi-final, with Roddick up 6-5 in the first set -- don't. Federer hasn't just won 35 straight matches on the grass here. More impressively, he hasn't lost in his past 20 finals.

If Federer gets to the final, he wins. "I guess," he said smiling, always smiling, "I am (unbeatable)."

"When he's playing his best tennis, he is unbeatable," Hewitt said. "He has taken the game to another level. I'm not sure what the key to beating him is."

Not sure anybody knows.

It was easy, in a way, to understand the brilliance of Pete Sampras. If you could return serve, you had a chance. It was easy, in a way, to understand the brilliance of John McEnroe. If you kept him from the net, you had a chance. It was easy, in a way, to understand the brilliance of Ivan Lendl. If you kept it away from his forehand, you had a chance.

Easy to understand, just not easy to execute.

But there is a little of everything and everyone in Federer. There is no one area to attack or avoid. No matter what you try, no matter what you do in response, he does it all a little bit better.

The only player who can defeat Federer is Federer.

And that puts him on a very short list of the most remarkable athletes in the world and certainly among the least appreciated. Everybody loves Roger, except the casual mostly North American fan who cares more about the competition of a match than of sheer, if not understated, dominance.

AN EDGE

As if he needed an edge -- and he doesn't -- Federer gets it with an extra day's rest in the process. Wimbledon, catering to television rather than the logic of ill-timed weather, scheduled both men's semi-finals on centre court yesterday. That meant Federer's match was completed at just about the time rain was apparent.

Both matches really should have been played at the same time. The Roddick-Johansson semi-final had no chance for completion right from the beginning. So they will begin again this morning while Federer waits to find out who his victim will be in the final.

Waits for another championship celebration.


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