King of quips puts positive spin on loss
WIMBLEDON, England Andy Roddick was soaking wet. His white Lacoste polo was stuck to his shoulders. His thin nylon hat was saturated with sweat. And every time he pulled his racket back and swung as hard as he could, tiny beads of sweat leapt off his brow.
He had absolutely, positively nothing more to give. And yet it wasn't enough. The 135-mile-an-hour serve, the laser-like forehand, the new wrinkle of serving and volleying, none of it mattered.
Andy Roddick simply wasn't good enough. And he knew it.
When it was all said and done, when top-seeded Roger Federer finished asserting himself as one of the greatest players in Wimbledon history, disposing of Roddick 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the men's final, the second-seeded American returned to his typical, post-match honest self.
"I need a beer," he said.
It was completely understandable. He had done everything he could, mixing up his game to confuse the defending champion, but for the second straight year walked off Centre Court a loser.
Afterward, Roddick refused to hang his head. Sure he was upset, sure it was frustrating to again lose to a player he has no idea how to beat, but he wasn't going to sulk. He wasn't going to cry. So, after walking into the interview room in a backwards mesh Mississippi cap, he reverted to the man of many one-liners. Only this time they were directed at himself.
Where does he go from here? "Home. Fast."
Mentally, what's it like to have an opponent tease with you like that? "Sounds like my life in high school."
The highlight came when Roddick answered a reporter's question about how he stayed confident when Federer was dominating.
Said Roddick: "It's not like I'm sitting there down two sets thinking, 'I've got this one,' " Roddick quipped.
That got a laugh out of the stone-faced moderator, who had yet to smile during any of Roddick's belly-busting post-match media sessions the entire tournament.
"I finally got a laugh out of you!" Roddick said, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief. "They're not easy, but I got one."
On court, Roddick's ploys weren't nearly as successful. He tried everything he and coach Dean Goldfine could come up with, going to Federer's forehand, his backhand. Coming in, staying back. Mixing the pace on his first serve, his second serve. But nothing worked.
Everything Roddick tried invariably ended with Federer lacing the ball past him. It left Roddick shrugging, throwing his hands in the air and heading back to the drawing board for a new plan come U.S. Open time.
"There's not much you can do," he said. "I'm not going to sit around and sulk and cry. Sometimes you have to sit back and say, 'too good.' Hope he gets bored or something. I don't know."
Last year, Roddick dominated Federer for a set and a half and then, after a rain delay, collapsed, losing to Federer in four sets. This year, even though Roddick failed to win a single set, he rated his performance as significantly better than 2004.
The only problem? Federer improved that much more.
"If I played the way I did this year versus the way he played last year, I'd probably win," Roddick said. "But he played head and shoulders above that."
And because of it, Sunday felt like a Federer coronation from the beginning. The world's No. 1 broke Roddick in the sixth game of the first set, needing just 22 minutes to take a one-set-to-love lead. It wasn't so much that Roddick played poorly, but rather that Federer dominated, hitting 15 winners compared to one unforced error.
In the second set, Roddick built some momentum early, pumping his fists and screaming, "Come on!" after breaking Federer's serve in the third game, but the defending champion responded to the challenge, breaking Roddick's serve three games later.
The set eventually went to a tiebreaker, leaving Roddick a crack of hope to get in the match. But Federer slammed that door shut, cruising to a 3-0 lead before winning the tiebreaker 7-2. In the third set, Federer broke Roddick in the seventh game and held for the championship.
"It's hard for him because I played a fantastic match maybe the best I've ever played," Federer said. "But I won't get bored so quickly. So I'm sorry."
At no singular moment did Roddick play poorly. Sure, there was an errant shot here or a moment out of position there, but the reality is against any other player on tour, his game was good enough Sunday to squeak out a five-set victory. Just not against the world No. 1. And unfortunately for Roddick, that's where the bar has been set. Roddick, world No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt, French Open champion Rafael Nadal, Australian Open champion Marat Safin, they all know. Want to be the best? Want to be the No. 1 ranked player in the world? You have to go through Federer, a 23-year-old who some are already whispering could be the best ever.
Basketball players such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing can relate, watching their NBA careers end without a title after playing at the same time as a guy named Jordan. Roddick's timing, it may turn out, could be just as bad. But he says he wouldn't have it any other way.
"If you can't compete against the best and beat the best, then you don't deserve to win these titles," Roddick said. "Either figure it out, find a way and step up or I don't deserve it. And right now I just don't deserve it."
Despite the loss, plenty of positives came out of Roddick's fortnight. The 22-year-old snapped his streak of five straight losses in five match sets, going the distance to defeat both Daniele Bracciali and Sebastian Grosjean. And he cleared a self-described "mental hurdle," by reaching his first Grand Slam final since losing to Federer here last year.
Now he just needs to get over the giant Swiss hump. Which is exactly what he plans to do.
"Listen," he said. "I want another crack at him until my record is 1-31. I still want to go against him again. He's the measuring stick."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.
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