July 5, 2009

"Sorry, Pete...I Tried!"

So said Andy Roddick as he accepted his third runner's up platter at Wimbledon, his fourth second place finish to the great Roger Federer in five Grand Slam finals.

From the get-go it seemed clear that if Roger was going to surpass my dear Pete Sampras in total Grand Slam titles, Andy was going to make him fight for it. For more than four and a quarter hours, the twenty-six year old American was the only thing that stood between Roger and tennis history -- and for a good portion of that time, it looked like he might succeed.

Roddick's been playing well in 2009, winning a title in Memphis and making the second week of the French Open for the first time in his career. He's at the top of the leaderboard in most service game statistics, winning 79% of his first-serve points and scoring 427 aces in forty matches this year. His upset of third-seeded Andy Murray in the semifinals last Friday was widely heralded as the match of his career and even converted some hard-core British fans to Roddick supporters.

But still no one gave him a real chance in today's final. Roddick had only won two of his previous twenty matches against Federer, and even though their previous match-ups at the All England Club had been close, Andy had only taken one set from him at the Championships. A couple fans tweeted to me that maybe Andy might win a tiebreak but then would go quietly into the night, and my own hitting partner adamantly swore that Roger would trounce him, rolling quickly and without contest to the title.

Of course we know how the match began -- Roddick broke late in the first set and held his serve through the second, earning but squandering four set points (which, in retrospect, would turn out to have been championship points) in the tiebreak. When he dropped the second set, again 6-7, we all figured this would be it.

But Andy's serve didn't let up on him -- he won nearly ninety percent of his first attempts in the next set and was able to convert on Federer early on to tie things up. When we got to the final and deciding fifth, Roddick would force Federer to do something he hadn't been able to in his first twenty-three service games -- break him.

It turned out not to be such an easy task. The men played the equivalent of two and a half sets, going strong for another ninety-five minutes -- incidentally, longer than the entire women's final. Roddick had another two break opportunities, essentially two more "match points", in the seventeenth game and didn't allow Federer to get closer than two points from the trophy -- at least not until the thirtieth game, when a frustrating mishit sent his return somewhere into the stands and Federer jumping for joy.

And so Pete Sampras's nine-year reign as the Grand Slam king comes to an end, just a month after Roger tied him at Roland Garros. It was a shorter-lived record than you might have expected -- after all Roy Emerson had been at the top for thirty-three years before Sampras surpassed him at 2000's Wimbledon. It seems fitting that it would happen at the All England Club, the grounds over which he ruled for seven years, as he watched with pride from the royal box. But Pete was certainly conquered by Federer -- and defended by Roddick -- in the grandest of styles.

And for as long as Roger holds on to this newest record, at least Pete take comfort in the fact that it was well-earned and even more well-deserved.

By the way, along with the slew of commercials that aired immediately after Federer's win, congratulating the Swiss giant on making history, check out the opening screen the ATP adopted to celebrate the man who just reclaimed his #1 ranking.



WriterMarie said...

What a spectacular match! A lot of people thought that Federer was going to run right over Roddick, especially the NBC broadcasters. I'm a huge Federer fan, but I'm so happy that Roddick showed us what he's really made of and gave the world one of the best matches in tennis. Congratulations to both of them!

Kavitha said...

I agree! I'm so glad that it turned out to be so much better of a match than ANYONE anticipated!