Sunday, July 05, 2009

Roddick/Federer - Wimbledon 2009 - Classic Tennis

Just got finished watching what is yet-another (third-in-a-row) Wimbledon Final classic. Roger Federer just became the all-time major championships winner in tennis with a 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 win over Andy Roddick in what was arguably Roddick's best match he's ever played, albeit in a losing effort. Fitting that Federer claimed his 15th slam and 6th Wimbledon title in such an awesome match. While this year's final probably won't match last year's as one of the greatest tennis matches ever played with Rafa Nadal over coming Federer 9-7 in the final set, the 2009 men's title lacked none of the suspense, high level, and great tennis of its predecessor.

Tennis is a sport in which I think it's pretty hard to judge who is the greatest player of all time across the eras for several reasons - the competition at the time, the technology of the rackets, the changes in tournament play, and the changes in surfaces. Am I ready to say I think Roger Federer is a greater champion that Bjorn Borg or vice versa? No, probably not. However, one could make a pretty compelling case for Roger Federer at this point for being the best men's singles player ever, and I'm not sure how that argument could be dispelled. Certainly, it wouldn't be easy.

Today, Federer, once again, showed why he's such a great champion. Roddick brought his A-game, and this was an A-game I had never seen from him before. Aside from one point - and a HUUUUUUGE point it turned out to be - in the second set tie-break ahead 6-5 where he choked on a relatively easy volley that would have given him a 2-love set lead, Roddick was nails until the final game of the match. His serve was on, and until the last game of the match, Federer never broke him. Nonetheless, it was Roger Federer with more aces (50 total), more winners, and more overall points in the match. Federer's return of serve... simply tremendous, and how he can take that and go from defense to offense, it's a huge part of his magnificence. Plus, he has supreme confidence in his ability to make shots, and he displayed that today over and over in the points that became rallies. Roddick was as good as I've ever seen him in rallies, and his improved backhand was a large part of that, but Federer was better. Roger Federer is as great a champion as tennis, and any sport really, has ever seen.

One of the things I really like about Federer, because it's easy for me to dislike gloating champions, is that he manages, for the most part, to stay humble in winning. It'd be impossible and false to not take some credit for your ability when you've won multiple championships, much less fifteen grand slams. Somehow, for me, Roger Federer walks that line. He credits his competition, he's grateful and shows some humility when interviewed, and he's got an amiable personality. I also enjoyed how he mentioned that it didn't escape him that Nadal missed the tournament, and he did it in a way that didn't discredit Roddick. The tennis world is fortunate to have a champion like Federer.

The more interesting character study in this match, without a doubt, though, was Andy Roddick. Roddick entered this match winless against Federer at Wimbledon and in major championships and with a 2-18 record versus Federer overall. And anyone who's watched Roddick's career knows that when events start spiraling against him in matches with Federer, he's cracked. Today, I waited for that over and over. The aforementioned second set tiebreak where Roddick was ahead in the breaker 6-2 and then proceeded to lose the next six straight points - with the easy volley he choked on ahead 6-5, that sort of mishap would usually do in Roddick against Federer. Not against everyone, but certainly against Roger. Not this match. Andy Roddick hung tough the next few service games, and he was back in the match. The third set went to another tiebreaker, and this time Federer went ahead 5-1 and 6-2. In a role reversal, Roddick brought it back against Federer to a similar point as Federer had in the set before, 6-5. Being the great champion he is, Federer hit a service bomb that Roddick couldn't answer, and now Federer had a two sets to one lead. One might think, that would be enough to finish Roddick. Roddick didn't have a lot of points on Federer's serves, but leading 2-1 in the fourth set, he managed a double break point and converted on his second chance, taking a one break advantage. Federer challenged him a couple times over the rest of the set, but Roddick held tough, both physically, especially after a spill on Federer's serve at 5-3, and more importantly, mentally. That was the fascinating aspect of Andy Roddick today - mentally, he never gave in. He simply didn't. Even when he won the U.S. Open a few years ago, I never was sure about Roddick's physical shape or his mentality to get over hurdles when the chips were down, especially against great players. This morning/afternoon, he played Hall of Fame tennis. John McEnroe commented early in the match that Roddick had a Hall of Fame career. Now, I'm not sure what it takes to get into the tennis Hall of Fame, but my mind lingered on that assertion. Roddick has one major title, and then several runner-ups. I think for many tennis observers, "runner-up" is probably how they view Andy Roddick. Not as a champion. Today's match, for me, he was a champion. As the final set went to 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, probably most tennis fans watching today didn't count on this when they tuned in or watched at the stadium for Breakfast at Wimbledon. A Roger Federer three-set victory - after all, he had only dropped two sets in the tournament - was much more likely. Until the 11th game of the first set, the course had been set. Roddick had won two points on Federer's serve up until then, but out of nowhere game two break points, and suddenly Roddick had the first set. In the fifth, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, they had played two sets in one at 12-12, and neither fellow had blinked. In fact, Federer at points seemed to be the one wearing down. He saved two break points, himself, down 15-40 in one of the next games. That would be Roddick's last best chance. At 14-15, I'm not sure what happened. Roddick finally looked off when he didn't win his serve. He went down love-thirty, but he quickly erased that deficit with good serves. When Federer got balls in during the last game, however, Roddick appeared lost. He had played more long matches than Federer over the course of two weeks, and maybe the amount of tennis finally got to him. Nonetheless, when he shot the last ball wide giving Federer the match, anyone who could question Roddick's fortitude this week and in this match would be mistaken in my opinion.

After the match, the pain in Andy Roddick's features was apparent. It'd be easy to look at the 2-19 record against Federer and say a lot of things. This day, however, isn't the day to say them. This day, Andy Roddick played like a champion. Unfortunately for Roddick, so did Roger Federer. For tennis fans, those two greats served up yet another fantastic Breakfast at Wimbledon. Hats off to both men.


Rich said...

I noticed that little "brevity" label, Ken. Don't think I didn't.

Ya old buzzard.

Kevin Knox said...

Wow Rich. That's as good an analysis as I've read so far. I agree straight down the line, and especially with your take on Roddick. I'd not have felt one bit ashamed or disappointed had Roddick pulled it off. He lacked the firepower to push Federer over the brink, but he had enough not to be pushed. And that's the best he's ever played. In the end, it probably did come down to the man who'd spent a little less time on court over the last 4 days.

The only thing I'd add is that Roddick gave the best speech humanly possible. I'll surely look it up on youtube again. He's one of the classiest competitors ever. Federer really could stand to take lessons from him on that front.