With Wimbledon 2010 beginning this week, we should all take a moment to revisit last year’s Men’s Singles Final. EPO originally wrote this piece the day after that match – on July 6, 2009.
So I clearly wasn’t quiet enough as I snuck into bed at 4:00am, as I was soon addressed with a question from the other side of the bed: “Did he win?”
Clearly, the abruptness of the response and lack of a forthcoming score was a sign for concern.
“I just feel sorry for Roddick.”
“He was just so very close.”
“Yeah, but that’s professional tennis isn’t it. Maybe he’ll win the US Open.”
It was, of course, the right thing for Mrs EPO to say – a traditional “there’s always next year” sporting cliché for sure, but still the right thing to say. For it’s true, of course. Maybe Andy Roddick will indeed come out in Flushing Meadows in a few months and finally secure Grand Slam number two now that for the first time in his career he is filled with confidence at the net and Roger Federer can’t always read his serve.
However, at 4:00am this morning, it certainly didn’t feel that way. In fact, it hadn’t felt that way since mid-way through the 2009 Wimbledon Final. John Newcombe’s commentary was frustrating enough with its factual errors even before he reminded us numerous times throughout the match that the pressure was all on Federer. You see, Federer was wanting to regain his Wimbledon title, break the Grand Slam titles record, and regain the number one ranking in the presence of many greats of the game: McEnroe in the commentary booth, Borg, Laver, and Sampras who flew from LA in the morning especially for the match in the Royal Box.
And Newk was right, all of this certainly put pressure on Federer.
But, of course, his implication that the pressure was on Federer and not on Roddick was ludicrous. For somewhere along the line during the match, it became patently clear that Federer would certainly win a 15th Slam, be it at Wimbledon ’09 or not. But Roddick? Six years ago at the US Open, only months after Federer won his first Slam at Wimbledon, Roddick won his first and thus far only Slam. Yesterday, and indeed this past week, he had played the best tennis he’d played in years – probably ever. And somewhere along the line during the match, it all became clear that this was, potentially, the best shot Roddick would ever have at winning a second Slam. The pressure? Off the charts.
Thus, in the second set, I went from hoping to “witness history” and come within sniffing distance of the lead in my fantasy tennis competition to desperately hoping that this most sentimental of favourites, who has been one of the most down-to-earth, humble and entertaining gentlemen to stroll around a tennis court during my lifetime would finally snare a second slam, fantasy tennis in ’09 be damned.
But even though he played out of his skin, holding serve for 37 consecutive service games in a row and holding serve once more than Federer did during the match, he lost. In the second-set tie-break, Roddick led 6-2 and looked on track for a 2-set lead. A few set points disappeared. Then, serving his 4th set point at 6-5, he missed a high backhand volley into an open court. I groaned so loudly, the cat was suddenly awake and the neighbours may have been too. I immediately sent an SMS to the bloke who was Best Man at my wedding – the same guy who I’d turned to after Sampras broke Emerson’s Slams record in 2000 as he initiated a conversation about how we should soak it all in, as we may never see another person crack 13 and might be telling our respective grandkids about watching Sampras break the record. My text read something like “So how many nightmares will Andy have about that backhand volley for the rest of his life?”
The rest, as they say, is history. Hours later, at 14-15 in the longest fifth set in Grand Slam Final history, unforced errors crept in and soon Roddick found himself sitting in what commentator and three-time Wimbledon runner-up Fred Stolle aptly referred to as one of the loneliest places in the world: by the side of Centre Court as the presentation was set up to honour his opponent’s victory.
It was then that the new Nike jacket was delivered to Federer.
Serena Williams, often regarded as the pinnacle of arrogance in the tennis world, waited till her post-match press conference to walk in with her tongue-in-cheek Nike t-shirt with “Are you looking at my titles” emblazoned across the front of it. Federer, however, was different. Without a skerrick of modesty, he donned his new gold-rimmed white jacket, with RF embroidered on its front and, sure enough, around the side was a golden number: 15.
Suddenly, for the first time in his long and storied career, Federer was the genuine villain in my lounge room.
For Andy Roddick isn’t Robin Soderling. After losing to Federer in the French Open final, Soderling presented as a man whose expectations of his own tennis career had been exceeded by reaching a Grand Slam final: one assumed that his pre-prepared runner-up speech probably didn’t have a colleague. But Roddick isn’t that man. Roddick is the guy who has worked his butt off for six years since his first Slam, lost two previous Wimbledon finals, and this year has apparently undertaken a new regime which has seen his net play improve out of sight. He presents as a man who, had he won last night, would be likely to spend the remainder of his life looking back on his tennis career with immeasurable pride. However, he also presents as a man who may be likely to consider his potential unfulfilled if he doesn’t win another Slam, and indeed will then be destined to look back on last night’s match in despair for the rest of his life.
But Roger still just had to wear the jacket.
During the presentation, Roddick was the epitome of class and what most Aussies would refer to as a true man – the tears tried their best, but only came out, we assume, once he was alone. He composed himself enough to get through his interview after seeing Federer in that jacket receive that trophy after that match. And suddenly, we viewers realised that the bloke who just wanted to win a second to turn his perception of his whole career around composed himself the way that Federer – who was on 13 Slams at the time – couldn’t when he lost to Nadal in Australia last January.
And then it was Federer’s turn to speak. Stolle and Newcombe said that the speeches were wonderful, both from true gentlemen who are “a credit to the sport.” They may be right. But before you agree, take a look for yourself.
If we weren’t already sorry for Roddick, surely we were by now. “Don’t be too sad,” Federer said, “I went through some rough ones as well, one on this court last year, so, I came back and won, so…” But by this stage Roddick had interrupted with something like, “Yeah, but you’d already won five,” which made Federer chuckle.
But it’s the look on Roddick’s face. Did you see it? If not, pause the video at 3:28 and look again. It’s ever so brief…but it’s there.
After the match, Sampras said “I feel bad for Andy, I really do, this was his chance. He came up short, but Roger, the great ones at the end, he just had a little bit more.”
All of which was true. Andy had missed his chance and Roger was in his jacket.
Federer is to become a father soon. We can only hope that someone, even the great man himself, sits the kid down one day and watches last night’s ceremony. Upon pausing the video with that look on Roddick’s face on the screen, we can only hope that the lesson is taught: “Play hard and take no prisoners on the court. But don’t ever, don’t ever make your opponent feel like that.”
Because if it was my kid who had worked so damn hard throughout his life just to end up shattered after losing that match, I’d want to destroy the arrogant prick in his gold-rimmed jacket.