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Painful loss for Roddick
American blows his two-set lead

WIMBLEDON, England - Two points.

That's how close Andy Roddick was to getting another crack at Roger Federer at Wimbledon.

Two points.

Up two sets and a break against a kid making his Grand Slam quarterfinal debut, and later just-that-far from winning, the No. 3-seeded Roddick unraveled Friday, losing 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 8-6 to No. 12 Richard Gasquet of France.

A white baseball cap tugged over his eyes, the usually gregarious Roddick discussed the defeat deliberately and in a monotone, as if he couldn't quite believe what happened.

'Well, it's another lost opportunity at Wimbledon,' the American said. 'I'd love to make you try to understand what it feels like in the pit of (my) stomach right now, but I don't know if I can do that. I don't know if I'm articulate enough.'

He lost to four-time defending champion Federer at the All England Club in the 2003 semifinals and the next two finals. Another showdown loomed because they were in the same half of the draw, and Federer beat 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 in an earlier quarterfinal Friday.

Might Roddick have been thinking ahead, even a tad, once he built his big lead against Gasquet?

'No,' was Roddick's reply.

So instead of having the four top-seeded men in the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time since 1995, Gasquet will be the interloper facing No. 1 Federer today, while No. 2 Rafael Nadal meets

No. 4 Novak Djokovic.

Not only does the top-ranked Federer take a 52-match winning streak on grass into his semifinal, but he also has the advantage of having played a little more than 11⁄2 hours Friday in his rain-suspended match against Ferrero and walking off court before 3:30 p.m.

Gasquet's struggle against Roddick, in contrast, lasted more than 31⁄2 hours and finished after 8 p.m.

'I am tired,' said Gasquet, who hit more aces than Roddick, 23-22, and far more winners, 93-60. 'I played a lot of time, with a lot of pressure.'

His wasn't even close to the longest workday, though. Djokovic played for 5 hours - 5 minutes shy of the longest one-day singles match in the tournament's 130-year history - before pulling out a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (9), 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5 victory over No. 10 Marcos Baghdatis on Court 1.

'Somebody had to win today,' Baghdatis said, 'so it was him.'

Before the third set, he was treated by a trainer for some fatigue in his right shoulder, weary from hitting shot after shot. Before the fifth, Djokovic dropped to the ground so a trainer could massage his lower back.

'How did I manage to hold on?' Djokovic asked afterward. 'Now I'm really trying to recover and get ready for the next one.'

Both he and Nadal were faced with a sixth consecutive day on court Saturday, but the three-time French Open champion, like Federer, should be able to count on an edge in the freshness department.

Nadal, trying to become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win at Roland Garros and the All England Club in the same year, needed barely more than 2 hours to eliminate No. 7 Tomas Berdych 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-2.

A year ago, Nadal was the only player who won a set against Federer at the grass-court major, doing so in the final. Ferrero turned the trick Friday and was right there with the Swiss star at 1-1 in the third set.

That's when Federer really got going, taking 20 of that set's last 24 points.

'Happy to have a set against him?' said Ferrero, once ranked No. 1. 'No, no. I was trying to win the match, not to win a set.'

Because Federer's fourth-round opponent withdrew with an injury, he had more than five full days off before facing Ferrero. There was some rust early on, but plenty of brilliance late, from return winners to second-serve aces to one backhand down the line that left Ferrero shaking his head.

'I decided in the third set to just play a bit more offensive, go for my shots a little bit,' Federer said. 'You've got to decide what you want to do with the ball.'

And so that he did.

Earlier in the week, he had to decide what to do with all of that free time.

'Instead of the locker room, I was at home, which was a bit more cozy,' Federer said. 'I went to the city once or twice. Went to the hairdresser. Watched movies. Played cards.'

Considering how he played for the first hour or so against the 21-year-old Gasquet, Roddick looked set to give Federer a true test.

Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, led 4-2 in the third set. But Gasquet held at love to 4-3, then hit two consecutive backhand winners - his best stroke - en route to breaking for 4-4. Eventually, that set marked the end of Roddick's streak of winning 18 straight tiebreakers. And Gasquet took the next tiebreaker, too, after Roddick almost took the match.

With Roddick ahead 6-5 in the fourth set and Gasquet serving, the Frenchman put a forehand into the net to make it 30-30 - two points from the end. But Roddick missed a forehand wide, then Gasquet smacked an ace to take the game. That was as close as Roddick would get, and Gasquet won for the first time after trailing 2-0 in sets.

'When you put your blood, sweat and tears - everything you have - into something,' Roddick said, 'and you can almost taste it - you envision something and it doesn't work out - it's not easy.'

By Howard Fendrich

AP Tennis Writer

WIMBLEDON, England - Ignore the rankings. Ignore recent form. Remember this: You never can count a Williams out.

That's the lesson Venus Williams is providing at Wimbledon, precisely the way her younger sister Serena did at the Australian Open six months ago.

Out of the top 30, never so much as a semifinalist at any Grand Slam over the past two years, Venus Williams moved a victory away from her fourth title at the All England Club by outclassing No. 6 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 6-2,

6-4 in Friday's semifinals.

'Something about us - no matter what we're ranked, no matter where we are, no matter what the next person says - ultimately we just believe in ourselves,' the elder Williams said, 'and I think that's what makes the difference.'

In her sixth Wimbledon final, the 27-year-old American will find a surprising opponent on the other side of the net today: Marion Bartoli of France, who came back from a set and a break down to stun No. 1 Justine Henin 1-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Before this year, the lowest-ranked female finalist at the grass-court Grand Slam was Williams, who was at No. 16 when she won the 2005 championship.

This time, it's No. 31 Williams vs. No. 19 Bartoli.

'I have nothing to lose tomorrow,' said Bartoli, who played 21 majors without ever making it past the third round until reaching the fourth at the French Open last month. 'Venus has been the champion here already. I will try to figure out the way to play against her.'

If Williams can credit her three consecutive lopsided wins over women ranked

No. 2, No. 5 and No. 6 to an edge in experience and a game built for grass, Bartoli had a more unique reason for her success against Henin - Bond, James Bond.

Yes, that's right. While falling way behind against six-time Grand Slam title winner Henin, the Frenchwoman noticed actor Pierce Brosnan sitting in the stands.

'I said to myself, 'It's not possible I play so bad in front of him,' Bartoli said, earnest as can be. 'I saw he was cheering for me, so I said, 'Oh, maybe it's good.' I kept going and I won, maybe a little bit for Pierce Brosnan.'

She began to turn things around after getting broken to trail 4-3 in the second set. Hitting two-fisted forehands and backhands, reminiscent of Monica Seles, Bartoli somehow started to put every ball her racket touched in the right spot.