Commentary

Emotional Roddick back in Wimby final

Originally Published: July 3, 2009
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- As Roger Federer made the media rounds Friday after his semifinal victory over Tommy Haas, he was cordial and, under the circumstances, exceedingly patient.

The five-time Wimbledon champion conducted interviews in four languages and even visited a certain American sports broadcasting studio. It took about an hour to fulfill his many commitments, and by that time, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick were well into the match that would deliver his opponent in the final.

Federer had more than a passing interest in the result. A Murray victory would turn Sunday's championship into a daunting road game for Federer, given that many of the 15,000 feverish fans around Centre Court would be imploring Murray to become the first British man to win here in 73 years. And then there was that damning head-to-head record: 6-2 in favor of Murray, including four straight losses.

Roddick was, as they say over here, a completely different kettle of fish. Federer has beaten Roddick 18 times in 20 matches, including the finals here in 2004 and 2005.

It's been a terrific year for Federer. After losing a five-set Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal, Federer won his first French Open, good for his record-tying 14th Grand Slam singles title. And now he goes for No. 15 against Roddick, his favorite crash-test dummy.

Yes, Roddick. Playing spectacularly clean tennis, he knocked Britain's favorite son out of the tournament 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) in three hours and seven minutes of ridiculously taut action.

If Federer wins, he should give Roddick half of his 850,000-pound check.

"I can play some tennis sometimes," Roddick said immediately afterward. "Not many people were giving me a chance at all. I knew that if I could stay the course, I had a shot.

"Throughout my career, I've had a lot of shortcomings, but trying hard isn't one of them. To be honest, the pressure was all on Andy. I was a little bit better today."

Roddick has made a fine living beating the players he should beat. The corollary: He usually loses to the players he's supposed to lose to. Roddick was 4-12 when he met players ranked in the top 10 in Grand Slams. And two of those four wins came when the opponent retired. That means Roddick had gone the distance to beat only two of 14 such opponents in majors.

Make that three of 15. On this day, the new-and-improved Roddick played out of the box. His searing serve and forehand have always been his one-two calling card, but against Murray he played tennis, marvelous tennis.

On set point in the first, Roddick carved a backhand slice approach that Murray dumped into the net. He carried through with his aggressive plan the entire match, coming to net an extraordinary 75 times. He won 48 of those points, 33 more than Murray converted at net.

Oh, and Roddick's serve sizzled. He and Murray both earned only two service breaks, and Murray actually produced more aces (25 to 21), but Roddick was better in the two tiebreakers that determined the match. In the final breaker, Roddick's first four serves were all unreturnable.

"It just came down to a few points here or there on his serve," Murray said. "Served really, really well in the tiebreaks. There's not a whole lot you can do with that."

The last point, Roddick's second match point, turned on a vintage forehand, deep and down the line. Murray couldn't dig it out, his backhand trickling harmlessly into the net.

Earlier, Federer filleted 31-year-old Haas 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3 to become the first man in history to reach seven consecutive finals at Wimbledon.

It is instructive that in Federer's 21 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals, Haas is his 15th different opponent, which simultaneously underlines the depth of men's tennis and Federer's unnatural consistency. Their previous three Grand Slam matches had all gone the distance, including last month's scare, when Haas won the first two sets of their fourth-round match at Roland Garros.

Federer couldn't have been more efficient. He won 89 percent of his first serves and double-faulted only once. Haas did not see a break point. Federer made only 15 unforced errors.

When his 18-2 mark against Roddick came up, Federer did his best to downplay it.

"I don't know how much my great record I have against Roddick would come into play," Federer said unconvincingly. "I'm not sure. It starts from zero.

"I've played him 20 times, so I've had plenty of time, you know, to study his game, to understand his game. I've had many different looks against Roddick. I enjoy how he leaves everything out on the court. I can only marvel at how incredible his serve is. I like playing against him, not only just because of the record."

[+] EnlargeAndy Roddick
Steve Bardens/Offside Sports/US PresswireAndy Roddick returns to his first Grand Slam final since the 2006 U.S. Open.

Roddick seemed stunned after he beat Murray -- even when he embraced the Scot, his eyes were uncommonly wide and he looked as if he wanted to cry -- and a few minutes later he revealed why.

"To be honest, the last couple years I wasn't sure if I'd get another chance to play another Grand Slam final," Roddick said. "And now I get to play another one."

After exiting in the second round here last year, Roddick had a frank discussion with then-fiancée Brooklyn Decker.

"Brook and I had a lot of talks -- if I still thought I could play and at least be toward the top of the game," Roddick said. "I definitely openly questioned it at that point. You know, then the rest of the year I was kind of hurt.

"So this offseason, we said, 'You know what, if you're not going to be up there, let's at least not wonder. Let's prepare yourself and give yourself every opportunity.'"

These two have played three times this year already. After Federer beat Roddick in straight sets in their Australian Open semifinal, the American pushed him to three sets in both Miami and Madrid.

Queen Elizabeth II was expected here at the All England Club on Sunday if Murray had made the final. Well, now she has the day all to herself.

After his brief BBC interview immediately after the match, Roddick walked from the broadcast position under Centre Court and began his way up the stairs to the players' locker rooms.

And then it hit him.

Roddick fell to his knees on the carpeted stairs and buried his face in a changeover towel.

"As soon as you finish up a match like that, thanking the crowd and acknowledging the crowd, then you get shoved into this little room with a camera in your face and you get asked a bunch of questions," Roddick said. "I didn't know anybody saw that on the stairs.

"It was just kind of me taking a second to kind of try to make myself maybe believe that I was actually going to locker room having done that."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.