Heading into the men’s final at Wimbledon, there laid the inevitability of witnessing a match with a noteworthy end, regardless of who received the trophy.
For Roger Federer, the man looking to reroute the passage of greatness as kept in tennis’ history books, could strengthen his claim to being the best player to ever step foot on a court. Or Andy Roddick, the American who had struggled to find his way back to a grand slam final ever since his defeat by the Swiss at the 2006 US Open, could open the tour ajar.
The player with a puncher’s chance—a label NBC colour commentator John McEnroe used to describe Roddick’s odds—proved to be a bit defter at countering his opponent, staying in prolonged rallies and moving around with an agile air.
History, on this day however, wasn’t willing to wait.
Federer’s 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 victory did secure a record 15th grand slam under his surname, as well as the repossession of his former No. 1 world ranking, but it wasn’t without the imposition of Roddick.
In the final set alone, serving second, Roddick was forced to hold his serve 15 consecutive times before a break opportunity arrived for Federer, one that presented a championship point.
The American had not surrendered his service game until that moment in time.
“I was just trying to survive each time and hold serve and give myself a shot,” Roddick said. “It didn't work out, but I definitely gave myself a look.”
Although Federer certainly deserved to win his sixth Wimbledon title—which was attained in seven successive finals at the All England Club—it was the determined and steadfast play of Roddick that managed to string the match out to its furthest extremity.
It didn’t produce the same brand of spellbinding tennis as the previous final did between Federer and Rafael Nadal last year—it had more of the feel of a marathon—but a rigorous display of gallantry and fortitude was manifested throughout.
Roddick, who adhered to those aggressive tactics seen in the past week by approaching the net 69 times and earning 42 points, continued to execute in the way coach Larry Stefanki has taught his pupil. He exercised a typical reliance on his serve—of which Roddick hit 27 aces—but also ran down points, yanking Federer to each end of the court on multiple occasions.
Federer, by his own margin, looked to be tentative and perhaps was stunned by the persistence of his adversary. There were various incidents where the Swiss botched what apparently looked to be routine forehands and was left flatfooted on some of Roddick’s passing shots.
At that juncture, memories of previous matches between these two players fleeted.
But the responsiveness of Federer was demonstrated in its full capacity, as he shot 50 aces to ensure his serve would be safeguarded. Despite eventually losing it twice—once in the first set and then later in what was then a pivotal moment at 2-1 in the fourth frame—the 27-year-old record-breaker made it difficult for Roddick to identify a weakness or hole to exploit.
Even down 2-6 in a second set tiebreaker, the most decorated man in the sport was able to expunge the spectre of seeing the deficit increase from one set to two. That had implications for the rest of the final, considering Roddick would have garnered perhaps enough buffer room to win the title in four sets.
So by the final’s conclusion, many things transpired.
Of course, the argument for Federer’s placement at the summit of professional tennis was substantially boosted, given the unprecedented number of victories (15); grand slam final appearances (20); consecutive semifinals reached (21); and the fact that he has finally coupled both the French Open and Wimbledon championships in a calendar year.
What may only be left to decide is whether this makes Federer the greatest of all-time. The debate will surely be a bit more lopsided after Sunday’s outcome, but the presence of Nadal on the tour, who has a 65 per cent winning percentage against Federer, definitely accompanies the opposing side of the issue—especially if the role of career statistics are incessantly consulted.
“I'm aware that Rafa didn't play here,” Federer admitted. “Injuries are part of the game, unfortunately, but I'm happy I became No. 1 in the world by winning this title because this is the biggest one there is out there. I love playing here.”
Federer’s victory, though, was one shaped and ultimately born by the play of Roddick. There are evident what ifs and could haves that may be applied to his performance at the utmost stage in tennis, bearing in mind that he was dictating the direction of the match within the first two hours of their encounter.
If the American had averted the historical theatrics of the day, a thought one could wrestle with, the potential clamour could have drastically changed the complexion of the ATP tour.
Playing in front of legends in Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and the seldom seen Pete Sampras on Centre Court, however, just seemed to indicate that the stage was prepared for historic proportions.
“It's not really one of those goals you set as a little boy, but man, it's been quite a career and quite a month,” Federer said of his accomplishment. “It feels amazing, but this is not why I'm playing tennis to break all sort of different records. But it's definitely one of the greatest ones to have.”
Behind him stood a sullen and distraught Roddick, a player who graciously accepted his subordinate position to his opponent.
"Don't be too sad. I've been through some rough ones, like last year," said Federer, referring to last year's Wimbledon loss to Nadal.
Roddick, who never punched as blindly as some suggested, was sharp until the very end.
"Yeah, but you'd already won five.”