Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wimbledon Mens Singles Final 5th July, 2009

With Andy Roddick playing at his peak, Roger Federer still managed to cling on and fight his way into the history books. What a match! What a champion!

Roger Federer faced off against old foe Andy Roddick in the mens singles final at SW19 Sunday. It was Federer's seventh straight Wimbledon final - a record - and his 21st consecutive Grand Slam semi-final or better. Another record. A remarkable achievement, and this afternoon on Centre Court, dubbed his "day of destiny," he was chasing yet another record, the Holy Grail of tennis, a 15th Grand Slam title.
However, Andy Roddick, who had dispatched British hope Andy Murray in the last four, and had made two previous Wimbledon finals in 2004 and 2005, had other ideas. He had lost those two finals to Federer when the Swiss master was in his prime. But he was determined that this time would be different.
Under a new vigorous regime drilled by Larry Stefanki, Roddick is a new player, leaner and meaner than ever before. Federer, coming off the back of a maiden Roland Garros crown which had eluded him for so long, and which many had suggested was the missing piece of his Grand Slam jigsaw, was looking back to his best with clinical wins in the previous rounds over Ivo Karlovic and Tommy Haas. But it wasn't as plain sailing for Federer as on the seven previous occasions he has beaten Roddick in Grand Slam matchplay.
Federer was clearly nervous early on, and that was only amplified when pal "Pistol" Pete Sampras, 7-time Wimbledon champion and 14-time Grand Slam champion, made an unannounced entrance in the royal box a few minutes into the warm-up, having flown in earlier that morning. His presence alongside Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, reminded us that this was a possibly historic day in mens tennis. These legends had gathered to witness somebody even greater than themselves take centre stage, and perhaps do what no man has ever done before.
Nerves seemed to be getting the better of Federer early on as he wasted four break point chances in the ninth game. Roddick held on and then broke Federer in the final game of the set when a forehand went tamely wide.
In the second set the Swiss sharpened up on his serve, but Roddick was unleashing thunderbolts of his own to take the set into a tiebreak. And it was looking as though it wasn't going to be Federer's day when he quickly found himself 6-2 down in the breaker, facing four set points for the American. But when Roddick needed his serve the most, it eluded him, and he appeared to cave in to the pressure of going two sets to love up on the Swiss.
Federer saved the first set point with a divine backhand clip cross-court, and then saved two more on his serve. At 6-5 Roddick had the court at his mercy but sent an easy volley wide. A Federer backhand passing shot was too hot for Roddick to handle, and on Federer's first set point of his own, the American contender sent a backhand into the tramline.
The momentum was shifting to the Swiss and, stunned from the last tiebreak, Roddick trudged to the wrong end of the court at the opening of the third set.
Federer was beginning to show glimpses of his brilliance, a magnificent cross-court forehand winner, and an ever-increasing aces column, taking him 5-4 up. But Roddick remained dominant on his serve to force another tiebreak. This time Federer raced into a 5-1 lead and clinched the set with a wide serve and easy forehand winner.
It was a glorious day for tennis - sun, blue skies and a breeze - no need for the new roof. In the third game a zephyr blew up a faceful of dust into Roddick's eyes, but in the very next game, the American kept his eye very much on the ball to break the Swiss after the no.2 seed failed to control a passing shot from Roddick at the net. Serving at 5-3 the no.6 seed won four points on the trot from 0-30 to send this thrilling fight into a deciding set.
Federer had the advantage of serving first, but had still failed to break the American's serve. In the second game, Roddick saved a 6th break point with more big serving. When the final set surpassed the 9-7 scoreline which had haunted Federer from last year's final, there was the feeling that this could go a long way. And on and on it went.
At 8-8, Federer had to dig deep from 15-40 to stay alive in the contest. A premature birth seemed to be on the cards for his wife, Mirka, but like her husband, she thankfully managed to hold on.
With nerve endings singed to dust, the set incredibly went to 14-14. Federer fired his 50th ace of the match in the 29th game, leaving Roddick to once again serve to stay in the championship. But his bruising serves were dying, his groundstrokes beginning to fade, and Federer took full advantage. The Swiss superstar earned a break point when at deuce, Roddick knocked a forehand long from mid-court. After four hours and fifteen minutes, Federer finally broke serve after 38 consecutive holds from Roddick, when the American again mis-hit a forehand long, and the battle was eventually over.
In the crowd were Michael Ballack, Sir Alex Ferguson, Russell Crowe, Woody Allen, Henry Kissinger and David Coulthard. Coulthard would have appreciated the speed of Roddick's bombs as they exploded off his racquet and homed in towards Federer. Sir Alex Ferguson would have loved the tense atmosphere and must have had a "squeaky bum" throughout. Russell Crowe would have admired these two gladiators locked in an epic battle. And Woody Allen couldn't have written a script so intriguing, so tense, so smeared with heartbreak, so wrapped in ultimate victory. And perhaps, just maybe, Pete Sampras was sitting there when Federer finally jumped in the air with joy, and thought to himself, "That's my boy."
Andy Roddick, rightly so, received a prolonged standing ovation, and Federer himself seemed to feel a little embarrassed holding the trophy, having won under such tight circumstances. He knows perfectly well how Roddick feels.
So, a 15th Grand Slam, surpassing Sampras' record haul, a 6th Wimbledon, surpassing Borg's five, and back to world number one. But what was most scary for the rest was when he concluded to Sue Barker in the aftermath of his historic triumph: "This doesn't mean I stop playing tennis."

This is a phrase that should send chills down the spines of every other Grand Slam hopeful for the foreseeable future.

For Federer now is in a league of his own.

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