A blockbuster showdown in Melbourne will come to fruition when perennial world No. 1 Roger Federer takes on a rejuvenated Andy Roddick in the Australian Open semifinals.
Despite its hype, this has been a one-sided rivalry. In 13 career head-to-head encounters, Roddick has triumphed just once. That came in Montreal four years ago, and since then Federer has reeled off eight consecutive wins.
This upcoming battle, however, will have a different feel. Roddick's results have dramatically improved since midsummer last year. After failing to reach a final in the first seven months of 2006 -- never mind a title -- Roddick broke through with a championship at the Masters Series in Cincinnati in August.
His turnaround in large part is a credit to Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors, his latest coach. Under his guidance, Roddick's fire and energy are once again evident on the court. After months of being mired in a malaise of uncertainness, he has resurrected his booming serve and lethal forehand. Most pundits agree that Roddick's renewed confidence is a direct result of the influence of Connors, an eight-time Grand Slam champion. Connors' competitiveness and brash behavior made lasting impressions on his opponents; he has instilled the same traits in his new pupil.
"I'll be the first to say it was a welcomed change [hiring Connors], almost a new life, just the way he puts things, it just clicked. I don't know if you can minimize the effect that he's had on me," said Roddick to reporters after defeating compatriot Mardy Fish.
Roddick's resurgence has been most noticeable in his latest encounters versus Federer. At the U.S. Open final, Roddick took his first set from Federer since the Wimbledon championship match in 2004. At the Masters Cup in November, Roddick held three match points before succumbing to the Swiss, 6-4 in the third set. And although it wasn't officially an ATP event, Roddick ousted Federer in the Kooyong exhibition final two weeks ago, certainly a confidence booster heading into the year's first major.
Yet while it seems the new Roddick is inching closer to the old Roddick, there's work to be done. Tennis supremacy still belongs to Federer, and it's going to take a drastic turn of events before this changes. But Roddick knows the reality of the situation. "I said for the past probably five or six months, the gap has either been closing a little bit or just [Federer] hasn't been extending it, which he's probably done the last three years or so," he said. "That's a good thing."
As far as his upcoming battle with Federer is concerned, Roddick should be physically ready. In his quarterfinal win over Fish, Roddick dropped a total of six games, and more impressively committed an almost unheard of four unforced errors.
''Against Fish I played pretty flawlessly, I thought," Roddick said. "I did everything pretty well but I'm guessing there's going to be some stuff that Jimmy probably wants to work on [in preparation for Federer]." There's little question that it's going to take a duplicate effort, and then some, if he plans on getting past his nemesis for the right to play in the Aussie Open final.
While Roddick's power has overwhelmed his competition in the past, Federer has barely blinked an eye, especially when facing his 140 mph serve. The nine-time Grand Slam titleholder has never scripted a Bill Belichick-like game plan to get by Roddick. Federer's tactics have been quite simple: get his serve back into play and then attack Roddick's weaker wing, his backhand. The American, though, is aware that his old strategy hasn't worked. He needs to be aggressive moving to the net and not allowing Federer to get into a rhythm. If Roddick reverts to his one-dimensional power game from the baseline in an attempt to go toe-to-toe against Federer, it's a battle he likely won't win.
Said Roddick, "I think it's just a matter of if you are going to come to the net, getting a little bit more on your approach shots. Little things like that, making every second serve return count. Just kind of little adjustments. I think the most important thing is you need not just a game plan, but the executing of it. There's not a lot of room for error in the execution of it."
As for Federer, he continues to rewrite the pages of tennis history after reaching his 11th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, an Open-era record. A victory would hand him a record-equaling seventh consecutive appearance in a Grand Slam final. Furthermore, he's two matches away from his 10th Grand Slam title, an accomplishment only five players in history have achieved.
Federer, the defending Australian Open champion, has lost in Melbourne just once in the last four years. In 2004, he lost an epic semifinal battle against Marat Safin, a match he was one point away from winning. Last year, Federer won the title, defeating a surprise finalist, Marcos Baghdatis, in the final.
However, throughout this fortnight, Federer has uncharacteristically shown vulnerability. Despite failing to drop a set through the first five rounds, he has been broken 12 times, four of those coming in his last match against Tommy Robredo.
After the match, Federer explained, "The break of serves, they're due to the wind, I assume, the conditions, just being really cold, maybe not getting the same effect on the serve. I had to kind of change my game around a little bit midway through the second set."
Despite his struggles on his serve, Federer is attempting to become the first player in 27 years to run through an entire Grand Slam without losing a set. Bjorn Borg accomplished this feat at the 1980 French Open. Ken Rosewall in 1971 was the last to do it in Australia.
Because of this lopsided rivalry, it would surprise few if Federer were to dispose of Roddick in straight sets. But the Swiss fully understands Roddick's new outlook. "Yeah, I mean, I think he's really found his serve again," he said. "He's definitely picked that up again. Ever since, he's been a great player again."
Roddick will leave all his cards on the table when these two meet for the 14th time. With the bar being set so high by the top player in the world, Roddick has absolutely no reason to hold back. He has the game to beat Federer and move on; whether he will remains to be seen.
Matt Wilansky is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to the tennis page.