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Roddick Valiant in Defeat, Federer Takes Place in History

Jul 5, 2009 – 6:41 PM
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Greg Couch

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I have never seen such pain in an athlete's eyes. Did you see Andy Roddick's eyes, wide open, and something deep pleading to come out?

"No," he said to the crowd afterward, "I'm one of the lucky few that gets cheered for."

And he thanked the fans.

Yes, Roger Federer had just won Wimbledon. He beat Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 16-14 Sunday for his record-breaking 15th major title.

That's right, the last set was 16-14, or 10 games longer than any previous fifth set in a major. Turns out that while this wasn't quite the drama or quality of last year's final, Rafael Nadal didn't have to be here for a classic Wimbledon. Instead, Pete Sampras, who had won 14 majors, was there. And Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg. History came together to watch history being made.

"It was a crazy match with an unbelievable end," Federer said. "My head is still spinning."

But he also said this: "Definitely it doesn't feel as great, maybe, as winning in straight sets where people feel better for you. This is a tough moment for Andy."

Despite all those greats there, and Federer's new record, and the usual ghosts on Centre Court, Roddick stole the moment. He stole the crowd, too, even though he was the one who had dumped their hero, the Great Brit Hope Andy Murray, in the semis. We knew Federer would break the record eventually. What we didn't know until these past two weeks was that Roddick had this in him. Greatness. Humility. Class. Maturity. A backhand. A brain.

"I just want to say congratulations to Roger," Roddick said to the crowd. "He's a true champion and he deserves everything he gets. Well done, Roger."

Then he looked to Sampras, who had just watched his record broken, in the crowd: "Sorry, Pete. I tried to hold him off.

"It was a pleasure playing here today in front of great champions ..."

His voice cracked and wavered, as he listed those greats, and he said he still hopes to have his name up there, among them, someday.

It feels a little weird talking about Roddick here. After all, the day will be remembered for what Federer did. John McEnroe, doing the NBC telecast, asked Sampras whether there is any doubt now that Federer is the best ever. Sampras discounted himself and mentioned that Laver had won two Grand Slams, all four majors in one calendar year.

I'll stick with this: Federer is the best of all time, for now. But his story isn't finished. In the past year, Nadal, who didn't defend his Wimbledon title because he has tendonitis in his knees, has owned Federer. If that keeps up, then no, you can't say Federer is the best ever when he can't even beat the rival of his own time. But if Federer, who now climbs to the No. 1 ranking, starts beating Nadal, then he actually will go down not only as the best tennis player ever, but also one of the most dominant athletes of all time.

On Sunday, Federer just looked like the golden boy out there, floating around the court as a legend. Roddick was fighting a human battle, scrapping and struggling, seeming lower to the ground somehow. Still, in the past 12 months, Federer lost that classic Wimbledon final to Nadal and then lost his mojo for a while. In one tournament, he smashed his racquet on the court.

When he won the French, finally winning a major on clay, his confidence came rushing back. So good for him. He is so smooth out there that I think he could do an intentional belly flop into a pool and still not make a splash. He wore that sweat jacket with the gold piping, and the No. 15 already prepared on the back.

And they already had a TV commercial ready for after the moment, showing his friend Tiger Woods, and Sampras, McEnroe and other greats congratulating him. McEnroe cried and said "That's double what I got."

Meanwhile, Roddick, in real life, was sitting on his chair staring at the ground, with his racquet lying by his foot. Roddick not only served great, as always, but also mixed things up, came to the net, never panicked, played defensively when he needed to. People are portraying this as his resurgence, but that's wrong. He was never at this point, not even when he won one U.S. Open, or lost to Federer twice before in Wimbledon finals.

That guy came in at the tail end of the power era, and was all big serve, hustling attitude and cocky personality. As the face of American tennis, he was an embarrassing cliché, someone who could muscle up, but nothing else.

Last year, he lost in the second round to Yanko Tipsarevic and started thinking he wasn't meant to win another major. He left London immediately to get away from Wimbledon, but nearly two weeks later found himself trapped in an airport, and guess what was on the TV there. The Federer-Nadal final.

From there, he had deep talks with his now-wife, Brooklyn Decker, about his future. He hired a new coach, Larry Stefanki, lost 15 pounds, found some foot speed and, basically, found more dimensions for his game.

In the past, Roddick fell apart in fifth sets. It's an inner-moment in a tennis match, and he had nothing to turn to. On Sunday, he smacked backhand winners down the line. For much of the match, he was pushing Federer around.

Latest Tennis Images

    Anna-Lena Groenfeld of Germany partners Mark Knowles of the Bahamas against Leander Paes of India and Cara Black of Zimbabwe in the Mixed Doubles Finals at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London, on July 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Anna-Lena Groenfeld of Germany partners Mark Knowles of the Bahamas against Leander Paes of India and Cara Black of Zimbabwe in the Mixed Doubles Finals at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London, on July 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld (R) and Bahama's Mark Knowles hold the trophies after beating after India's Leander Paes and Zimbabwe's Cara Black during the mixed doubles final match on Day 13 at the 2009 Wimbledon tennis championships at the All England Club on July 5, 2009. The event, the third Grand Slam tournament of 2009, runs from June 22 to July 5, 2009. Groenefeld and Knowles won 7/5,6/3. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    India's Leander Paes (L) and Zimbabwe's Cara Black hold the runner's up trophy after losing against Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Bahama's Mark Knowles during the mixed doubles final match on Day 13 at the 2009 Wimbledon tennis championships at the All England Club on July 5, 2009. The event, the third Grand Slam tournament of 2009, runs from June 22 to July 5, 2009. Groenefeld and Knowles won 7/5,6/3. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Leander Paes of India partners Cara Black of Zimbabwe against Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Anna-Lena Groenfeld of Germany in the Mixed Doubles Finals at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London, on July 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    India's Leander Paes (L) and Zimbabwe's Cara Black hold the runner's up trophy after losing against Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Bahama's Mark Knowles during the mixed doubles final match on Day 13 at the 2009 Wimbledon tennis championships at the All England Club on July 5, 2009. The event, the third Grand Slam tournament of 2009, runs from June 22 to July 5, 2009. Groenefeld and Knowles won 7/5,6/3. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Leander Paes of India partners Cara Black of Zimbabwe against Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Anna-Lena Groenfeld of Germany in the Mixed Doubles Finals at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London, on July 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld (R) and Bahama's Mark Knowles (C) receive the trophy after beating India's Leander Paes and Zimbabwe's Cara Black during the mixed doubles final match on Day 13 at the 2009 Wimbledon tennis championships at the All England Club on July 5, 2009. The event, the third Grand Slam tournament of 2009, runs from June 22 to July 5, 2009. Groenefeld and Knowles won 7/5,6/3. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld (R) and Bahama's Mark Knowles hold the trophy after beating India's Leander Paes and Zimbabwe's Cara Black during the mixed doubles final match on Day 13 at the 2009 Wimbledon tennis championships at the All England Club on July 5, 2009. The event, the third Grand Slam tournament of 2009, runs from June 22 to July 5, 2009. Groenefeld and Knowles won 7/5,6/3. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images

    Mark Knowles (R) of the Bahamas celebrates after partnering Anna-Lena Groenfeld (L) of Germany to victory in the Mixed Doubles Finals against Leander Paes of India and Cara Black of Zimbabwe at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London, on July 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

    AFP/Getty Images



If it weren't for his meltdown at the French, we could proclaim him a newly matured, 26-year old married man. Maybe he's going to pull an Andre Agassi on us and become something to look up to rather than some loud punk.

He seemed relaxed throughout the tournament, even having a running joking-feud with Brooklyn on their Twitter accounts, as they divulged embarrassing things about each other. Roddick is a fan of singer Rick Astley.

"You know," Roddick said, "Brook has been a very calming influence, and someone that I can kind of confide in and not have to put up, you know, a super brave front in front of."

Roddick had a chance to win. Up a set, and 6-2 in the second set tiebreaker, he had four set points for nearly unbeatable momentum. Federer won six straight, with Roddick missing one easy backhand volley that will haunt him for a long time.

Roddick had his last chance at 8-all, up 15-40 on Federer's serve. But he couldn't break. When Federer won the final game, if was the first break of Roddick's serve all day.

So Roddick gives America a men's tennis star again, one much more likable. But his name still isn't with the legends who watched him from courtside, or from the other side of the net. No, the golden boy floated down and stole the tournament and history.

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