Roddick the sentimental favorite
Reach the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, and you get to join the Last Eight Club. Win the whole thing, and they make you an honorary member of the All England Club.
Officially, there's no club for losing in the finals a bunch of times, but it exists all the same. Guys who could have won, should have won and -- if not for some cruel twist of luck -- would have won at some point.
Yet they keep trying, picking themselves up, swallowing each painful defeat and coming back for more. In the process, they often capture the hearts of the public. More than the majestic champions, these are the players who represent the hope and pathos that make victory meaningful.
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Everyone knows members of the Wimbledon finalists club: Ken Rosewall. Ivan Lendl. Patrick Rafter. Goran Ivanisevic, one of the rare ones who actually managed to win it in the end.
The list goes way back. In the 1930s, Gottfried von Cramm lost three straight finals to England's own Fred Perry. The gentlemanly German baron won over the class-conscious crowd so thoroughly that, if the fans had had their way, the British Grand Slam drought would stretch a few years further than Perry's 1936 victory.
The newest member is Andy Roddick. After two previous defeats in the final to Roger Federer, last year's epic 16-14 fifth-set loss to the Swiss sealed Roddick's status as the new sentimental favorite of the championships.
"I think a lot maybe changed after Wimbledon last year," Roddick said. "I certainly think the sentiment is maybe a little bit different now."
There hasn't been such a universal "people's choice" since Ivanisevic fulfilled his Wimbledon ambitions by winning the title as a wild card in 2001.
Two weeks ago, having arrived in England after a third-round exit at the French Open, Roddick appeared on the well-known British late-night talk show "Friday Night with Jonathan Ross."
During the interview, Ross told his guest, "I know we've got Andy Murray, but I'd like to see you win Wimbledon this year, I really would, because I think you so deserved it last year.
"And Federer's won it -- how many times? Stop showing off, Swiss guy. Let someone else have a look in."
Public sentiment might say this is Roddick's year, but what do the form books suggest?
With Federer looking a little more vulnerable these days and Nadal possibly due for a letdown, there is a glimmer of opportunity in the men's draw that Roddick is as well positioned to take advantage of as anyone. Given his formidable serve and proven grass-court record, the American is always in the mix at Wimbledon.
At the same time, however, it's hard to see lightning striking twice. He'll have to overcome a recent lack of match play in the early rounds and be hitting his peak by the time he faces the rest of the big guns late in the second week.
A little luck from the draw wouldn't hurt either -- i.e., no Federer in the quarterfinals. Or heck, no Federer, period.
Roddick lost to Dudi Sela at Queen's last week, looking a bit like a cat being chased by a mouse as he fell to the small but speedy 5-foot-9 Israeli in straight sets. That means he goes into Wimbledon having played only five tour matches since April and only two on grass, although he has decided to play the Hurlingham exhibitions this week to get in some matches against the likes of Murray and Lleyton Hewitt.
"A match at Queen's isn't going to ruin what I've done on this surface for the last eight years and how I've started off this year," said Roddick, who reached back-to-back finals in Indian Wells and Miami before taking most of the clay season off.
Roddick has earned sizable respect for staying competitive at the top of the sport by incrementally improving and recalibrating his depreciating power-based game. There has been no easy formula to follow because although the serve is always there, he has neither the natural volleying capabilities to charge the net with abandon nor the all-around baseline game now required to consistently win points from the backcourt.
It's a conundrum, and even though Roddick is impatient with well-meaning suggestions, just about everyone has tried to think of something that might help him capture that elusive second Grand Slam title to go with his 2003 U.S. Open win.
After last year's Wimbledon final, Roddick shared the tale of his mail carrier coming to the door and noting that Roddick didn't change his sweaty shirt often enough in the fifth set.
"I haven't seen my mailman since," Roddick revealed recently. "He might have quit or been moved to another round after I made that knowledge public."
During his interview with Ross, Roddick was interrupted in the middle of a self-deprecating remark.
"Let me tell you; this is what's wrong with you. You want me to give you some advice?" Ross asked, an ironic note in his voice.
"More than anything," Roddick replied.
"Listen up, because this could be the difference," Ross said. "You make too many jokes, too many negative jokes about your game."
"Do I? Like what?"
"Like you just did. A minute ago."
Roddick shrugged. "Just having some laughs."
"Well, don't. Look me in the eyes. Say after me, 'I'm a winner.'"
"I'm a winner."
"'I'm going to win Wimbledon this year.'"
"I'll win Wimbledon this year."
Whether he does win or not, Roddick knows he already has won a place in the history of the tournament.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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