It wasn't Roger Federer winning his record-setting 15th major title at Wimbledon, his sixth win there in seven years, that fired my imagination Sunday. Federer's win is a great story, and I do love the Rog, as any fan of tennis must.
For me, the story was Andy Roddick playing the match of his life, by far the best tennis that he has ever played. Having watched Roddick through much of his career, I was astonished witnessing how far his game has come.
But what really left an impression on me was that Roddick came into the match believing that he could beat Federer. He came within a hair's breadth of doing so, and was visibly dejected at the end of the match. There was no, "Well, Roger's a great champion and it's an honor to share center court with him, blah blah blah." No, Roddick pushed Federer around at times, and the fact that he came up short hurt him, as it should. If Roddick uses this match in the right way, I have no doubt that major championships are in his future. I've seen Roddick in plenty of big matches with stuff on the line. This was a different Andy Roddick -- determined, gritty.
On numerous occasions playing Federer, Roddick had failed. He had lost 18 out of 20 matches to Federer going in to Sunday's Wimbledon final. But Roddick won the first set, and had a great opportunity to take the second in a tie-break with Federer down 6-2. The Rog battled back, relying on a serve that, given its smooth, easy delivery doesn't seem all that intimidating at first blush, not like Roddick's short, violent stroke. Federer ended the match with more than fifty aces though. His serve was unequivocally the difference. Roddick, despite breaking him in each of the first two sets, could simply not handle it.
Some of the greatest players in the game's history were spectators: Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, and the man who's record Federer was looking to surpass for major titles in a career -- Pete Sampras. When John McEnroe asked Sampras whether Federer was now the greatest of all time, Sampras was non-committal, but I liked to think that his reluctance to pronounce Federer the greatest was to some degree a function of having witnessed his countryman, Andy Roddick, push Federer to the limit.
Roddick was brilliant. Knowing he was facing the world's best -- maybe the best ever -- he went for winners, and his balls were consistently true. But Federer is a savant, and held serve like a Janissary holds his sword. He could not be bested.
The match was an instant classic. I thought last year's Federer-Nadal final was the best ever. I'm rethinking that. Going forward, this match will hopefully lay the foundation for Roddick to make a run at a U.S. Open Championship, bragging rights that a lot of lusty American tennis fans crave. The man from Austin looked lithe, powerful, and at times he did something I've seen few tennis players do: He ran the Rog all around the court.