Sunday, July 03, 2005

Simply InFedererable

Call him the best player since Sampras. Call him whatever you will. In a virtuoso performance fitting of an artist, Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in straight sets 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to claim his third consecutive Wimbledon championship. He became the first player since Sampras to win three in a row and now is in exclusive company with Bjorn Borg as only the third male in the Open Era to ever accomplish this feat. Fred Perry was the first to ever do it when he won the historic tournament from 1934-36.

With dominating groundstrokes and passing shots that defied logic, he dominated a very good player in Roddick. So brilliant was Federer that he hit a ridiculous 49 winners and made just 12 unforced errors for the match. An incredible ratio for a final. Sixteen of those winners came from the ground. Federer even outaced Roddick 11-7.

In the first men's final rematch at the All England Club since 1989 when Boris Becker defeated Stefan Edberg in the second of a trilogy, Federer imposed his will on Roddick early to set the tone for the match.

After both players held serve to two all, Federer took advantage of a weary Roddick in the fifth game to go up a break. Roddick, who a day earlier had to go four hard fought sets to defeat Thomas Johansson, might have been feeling the affects of that match early on. He didn't have as much zest on his deadly serve or huge forehand. Federer was able to take quick advantage and claimed the first set with ease when he broke for a second time on a looping slice backhand return crosscourt that landed just inside the line. He was so dominant that he only dropped one point on his serve and slugged 15 winners to just one error in the set.

When Federer held with ease to open the second set, it looked like it was going to be very difficult for Roddick to crack Federer's serve. But after a sharper service game to even it one all, Andy took advantage of a rare unsteady game from the top ranked player in the world. When he ripped a forehand, forcing a forehand volley error from Federer into the net, Roddick pumped his fist and had the break. But right away, the champion put pressure on Andy's serve and although he didn't get back on serve, he made it known that it would be a struggle for the American to hang on and claim the set.

When Roddick slipped up in similar fashion to Roger earlier in the set, the Swiss product pounced forcing Andy into a long backhand which put the pivotal set back on serve three apiece, prompting a 'Come on' from Federer. From that point, both players held their serve without trouble until Federer led 6-5. With Roddick serving to push it to a tiebreaker, Federer earned two set points. But Roddick came through with two unreturnable service winners and held for six all.

In the tiebreak, Federer jumped out to a 3-0 lead when he surprisingly took both points on Roddick's serve. But even more remarkably, Roddick came right back to make it 3-2 when he hustled to hit a perfect slice backhand winner down the line to put it back on serve. Unfortunately for Roddick, Federer played the next two points well to lead 5-2. When he forced Roddick into an error, Andy slammed his racket in frustration because he knew how vital the second set was. Time was running out. When Federer hit a service winner down the tee, he claimed the tiebreak 7-2 and took a commanding two set lead. Out of the eight tiebreakers they've played, Federer has taken seven of them.

With some light drops of rain falling, play was halted for 25 minutes. This gave Roddick a chance to regroup and talk to his coach Dean Goldfine. But on this day, nothing was going to stop Federer.

When play continued, Roddick came out serving well and hitting the ball crisply from the baseline. He even got to deuce on an early Federer serve giving the partisan crowd some hope. However, Federer did not budge.

Both players held for three all without any problem. Like champions usually do, they seize the moment. That's what Federer did in the seventh game of the set. With Roddick knowing he needed to hold, Federer went on the offensive to put himself in position to earn a break. The game started with him running down a Roddick volley and cracking a winner down the line. When he hit a return that Roddick had to play between his legs on the next point, eventually Federer hit a running forehand winner to get to love-30. That's when the crowd sensed that it could be the beginning of the end. When he hit a beautiful crosscourt backhand winner to break Roddick and lead 4-3, he was two games away from destiny.

After each player held for 5-4, Federer easily served it out. When he nailed a service winner that Roddick couldn't return, Roger pumped his fists in excitement and dropped to his knees, laying against the grass as if it were the comfort of home. On this surface, he may as well have been. It was Federer's 21st straight match won at Wimbledon and 36th consecutive victory on grass with his last loss on the surface coming against Mario Ancic in the first round in 2002. He's come a long way since then.

The 36 straight victories are five shy of the record set by the uncomparable Bjorn Borg. Borg won all 41 of his matches at Wimbledon enroute to a men's tournament record five consecutive titles from 1976-80. Federer will take a shot next year at matching that impressive streak and winning a fourth Wimbledon in a row. For now, just Borg and Sampras ('97-00) have ever won four straight championships at the All England Club.

As a 19-year-old four years ago, he ended Sampras' run in four sets with a forehand return winner and fell to his knees then because he beat a legend. Now, Federer is the one writing his own script for fans to remember.

The slam was his fifth major of his career and first since overwhelming Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets at last year's U.S. Open. Federer had been having a great year winning seven titles heading into defense of his crown. But two of his three defeats had come in the first two slam semifinals, losing to eventual champions Marat Safin (Australian Open) and Rafael Nadal (French Open). If he didn't win in London, it would have been considered a letdown. That's how much has become expected of Federer.

Even more amazing is the fact that Federer doesn't lose in finals. He is five-for-five at grand slams having dropped just one set and has won a tour record 21 in succession. The previous best was 12, shared by Borg and John McEnroe.

Federer will now have a chance to defend his title at the U.S. Open in six weeks. If he can, he will be eight away from the all-time record of 14 set by Sampras. It might be a little early to start counting down but Sampras was the same age when he won his third consecutive Wimbledon in '95 and fifth title. If Federer can continue his supreme level and stay healthy, maybe one day he can challenge that remarkable record.

For Roddick, once again, he finished runner-up to Federer. While it had to be disappointing for the 22-year-old American, he should take some solace in knowing that other than Federer, nobody else has solved him at Wimbledon or any other grass court tournament in the last three years. During that span, Roddick has won 32 of his last 35 matches on the surface.

Roddick did try his new tactic of going to the net more against Federer. But he wasn't as successful as he had been in previous matches, able to win just 18 of 42 (43 %) points due mostly to Federer's solid ball striking from the baseline. Meanwhile, Federer won 17 of 25 (68 %) points when he came in. A much better ratio.

That was the kind of day it was. Nothing Roddick could have done.


He was up against the best.

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