Monday, July 6, 2009

Andy Roddick Learns That Nobody's Perfect

Last year's Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Wimbledon final is talked about as being the greatest tennis match of all time - at least perhaps the greatest Grand Slam final. It is one of those events where people can tell you where they were when it was happening. I was packing up in a hotel room waiting to check out. I called the front desk twice to push back my check out time because the rain-delayed match seemingly would not end, as momentum swung back and forth between the two giants until Nadal finally wore Federer down in extra games in the fifth set (9-7).

But this year's final between Andy Roddick and Federer was completely different, and entirely better. After Roddick suddenly transformed himself into a shot-maker just in time to ruin the Andy Murray-party in England, he then nearly ruined Federer's coronation on Sunday as well. Where last year's match was a competition to find out which seemingly crucial error would eventually cost one man or the other, this year's match a competition to see who would finally make a mistake. And the first time Roddick did he lost.

It was the most perfectly played tennis I have ever seen. Once they reached the do-or-die point at 6-6 in the fifth set, each man just stopped missing (not that they had done much of it all day anyway). Neither even really looked tired through it all. And at 8-8, when Roddick had two break points against Federer's serve, and it finally looked as though one of the two had finally blinked, Federer simply starting hitting every serve so perfectly that Roddick hardly even flinched at most of them from then on. He had 50 aces in the match and it seemed half of them were in the fifth set.

From that point, 8-8 in the fifth, they then played an entire extra set toe-to-toe, with each man out-doing the other on his serve until finally at 15-14, Roddick was finally broken. For the first time all day. In sports, we throw the term "heart-breaker" around a lot, but that term should be retired after this one. You always feel for the loser in a final (unless you just don't like them of course), but this was somehow different than normal. The fact that Roddick had to take home the second-place trophy was somehow like an insult in this case. That a player who makes one mistake all day doesn't get to be called champion is just cruel.

Before this tournament, when Nadal dropped out, there was some talk that this would be an all-too-easy run for the all-time Grand Slam winner title for Federer. Novak Djokovic can't seem to get over the hump. Roddick didn't have the game to rival Federer. Perhaps Murray could ride the home-town fans to a miracle win. But it was always Federer's to win just like the French Open was last month once Nadal went out. And in the end Federer did win, but Roddick made sure that he had earned it and made sure that for his 15th Grand Slam title, perhaps we finally got to see a genuinely joyful celebration from the coolest killer in the game.


And through over five hours of tennis, through 77 games played, not a single screech was heard on a single shot (even the ones at 130 mile-an-hour or faster). But when the match ended and NBC aired the taped-delayed women's doubles final, they made up for all those hundreds (thousands?) of silent, powerful shots with a constant stream of cacophonous screeching and screaming (even on flat-footed volleys). And of course it was on tape, because this was NBC-Wimbledon coverage, after all.

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