the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Men's Final Preview

Photo Titled Federer smash
Roger Federer smashes the ball at Tommy Haas on Centre Court.

Not only does Andy Roddick have to perform the equivalent of scaling a vertical cliff face without ropes or crampons when he tackles Roger Federer in the men's singles final; he is also required to fly in the face of history. Neither task, it has to be said, will particularly faze him if he performs again as he played on Friday in torpedoing Andy Murray and the dreams of a nation.

The cliff is constructed of the statistics built up between these two over nine years, and the vertical bit is Roddick looking up at the number of times he has lost to Roger - 18 out of 20. As far as history goes, Federer will walk on court poised to become the History Man.

If Federer clocks up victory number 19 this afternoon over Roddick he will become the first man to have won 15 Grand Slams, passing the 14 of Pete Sampras. He will regain the world number one ranking he held for 237 straight weeks before losing it to Rafael Nadal in August last year.

By simply turning up, Roger will have shattered the record of Ivan Lendl by appearing in his 20th Grand Slam final. He is the first to contest seven Wimbledon finals in a row. This is also his sixth consecutive Grand Slam final. And by winning his sixth Wimbledon, Federer would move to within one title of Sampras and William Renshaw, who wielded his racket in the days when you didn't have to bother turning up to defend your championship until the final round of the following year. Whether that really counts or not, we will leave to the historians and sentimentalists.

The sheer volume of Federer's achievements, winnings and reputation tend to dwarf what Roddick has managed in his career. Which is hardly fair since the man from Omaha, Nebraska, and these days a resident of Austin, a married resident, too, has been most consistently the best American tennis player since Sampras stopped slam-dunking and Andre Agassi found Steffi Graf.

This is his eighth straight year in the top 10, he has already won a Grand Slam (US Open 2003) and following a slight career dip last year - for instance, he lost in the second round here - he did very much the smartest thing by taking aboard Larry Stefanki as coach.

Stefanki has done wondrous things in the past. For example, he guided Chile's Mister Grumpy, Marcelo Rios, to world number one, helped Fernando Gonzalez develop more than a big forehand, resurrected the late career of John McEnroe, and even guided Tim Henman along a more productive path for a while. In the case of Roddick, he advised losing a bit of weight as the first step to a better level of fitness and it has paid rich dividends, for instance in the way he held off Lleyton Hewitt over five sets in the quarter-finals.

'It's nice to talk about the records because it gives me an incentive to do well'

Alhough his total of 27 career titles does not get past Base Camp compared with Federer's 59, he is a threat, and Federer knows it. Having had the wisdom of Jimmy Connors in his corner for a while, Andy has learned the art of scrapping, alley cat fashion, and the arrival of Stefanki has imbued a more tactical awareness.

One aspect of the job where Roddick has never needed any coaching or advice is his ability to talk sensibly and intelligently about himself and the sport. That second round exit here 12 months ago was what stayed with him for a long time and he discussed with his then-fiancee, Brooklyn Decker, whether there was still a future in tennis for him.

"We had a lot of talks about that, and I definitely openly questioned it at that point. So during the off-season we said, at least let's not wonder, let's prepare and give yourself every opportunity. And I did work real hard. I have been committed, from everything to diet and sleep, to everything. I gave myself every opportunity to succeed.

"I'm excited about this one. I didn't know if I was ever going to get to play a Wimbledon final again. I'm thankful to have that opportunity. But you don't go back to a Wimbledon final by accident. It certainly is a process. And Brook has been a very calming influence, someone I can confide in and not have to put up a super brave front in front of." And, 18 defeats or not, the Wimbledon final is a whole new ball game in Roddick's view. "I'm happy where my game's at right now."

So is Federer, of course, having dropped only one set en route to the final, compared with the six conceded by Roddick. But he readily acknowledges, "Today it starts from zero", although he concedes it is "quite amazing" to be back in a Wimbledon final already.

He also finds his large place in the history books amazing. "I never thought I would be that successful as a kid. I would have been happy winning a couple of tournaments and maybe collecting [one] Wimbledon, achieving the dream scenario. But not all those records. It's quite staggering. And having another opportunity on Sunday, it's fantastic being back in a Wimbledon final because everything happened quite quickly.

"But history means more to me today than it used to. It's nice to talk about the records because it gives me an incentive to do well for myself. I love trying to beat the younger generation and playing for the history books, but especially also playing for myself."

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