Full disclosure: I'm a huge tennis fan, but not the biggest Andy Roddick fan.
I'm not a fan of his bratty attitude. I'm not a fan of his hesitance to attack the net despite having one of the best serves in tennis. I'm not a fan of his inconsistent play and the fact that despite his shortcomings, he's the best thing American men's tennis has had to offer for the past seven years.
But something I didn't expect to happen surfaced during Sunday's men's Wimbledon singles final.
I became a full-fledged, fist-pumping, teeth-gritting, "Come on!"-chanting Andy Roddick fan.
I woke up Sunday morning and booted up the DVR not to root for Roddick, but to witness history. Similar to the tennis greats in attendance at Centre Court (Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg!), the advertisers (Nike, NetJets!), and even Roger Federer himself (he packed a Nike sweater with an annoyingly embroidered "15" on the back!), I expected the five-time champ to win.
In a week which saw news agencies and news consumers alike scrambling for details behind the very sad and very unexpected deaths of Michael Jackson and Steve McNair, Federer vs. Roddick was a breath of fresh, predictable, seemingly inevitable air.
All the A-material was there—Federer's dominance over the tennis landscape (his inevitable 15th major), his dominance at Wimbledon (his sixth title in seven years), and his dominance over Roddick (a staggering 18-2 head-to-head record) all pointed to an easy win for the Swiss champ.
Reporters just needed to fill in the score, columnists needed to give Roddick a pat on the back for a great tournament before reigniting the Federer vs. Pete Sampras all-time great debate, and everyone needed to stick around long enough to see if Sampras would get a chance to shake Federer's hand in front of the cameras (three games into the match, John McEnroe suggested that Sampras could even present the trophy to Federer).
But then Roddick held off four break points at 5-5 in the first set and broke a stunned Federer to take the set 7-5.
Then he came within an awkward misplayed backhand volley of going up two sets to love.
Then he continued to slap forehand passing shots (or as McEnroe calls them, "squash shots") past Federer and pushed the four-time champion to a second straight tiebreak.
Then he refused to implode after facing a 2-1 set deficit despite not losing his serve once, as he broke Federer's serve, shook off an awkward baseline slip, and closed out the fourth set.
Then he worked for 30 more games, eventually losing his first service game all day and faltering to a guy that most people had winning in three, maybe four, sets.
Three points before losing the match, Roddick was a point away from 15-all in the fifth set. Fifteen games—not points—apiece, that is.
While many reporters, bloggers, columnists, and talking heads following the match gave immense credit to Roddick's efforts, the headlines (my favorite being ESPN's "Swiss Bliss") belonged to Federer. It was the story news outlets had been planning for weeks, if not longer, and Federer's personal accomplishment was the universal lede.
But while the history books and many a tennis fan will remember July 5, 2009, as the day Roger Federer put his name atop the list of all-time greats, I'll remember it as the day I started rooting for Andy Roddick.
I was impressed with his five-set win over Lleyton Hewitt; I was floored with his gutsy four-set win over Andy Murray (and equally admired his classy post-match praise for Murray); and I became a fan during one of the grittiest, most improbable tennis performances I've seen since Pete Sampras lost his dinner (twice!) during the quarterfinals of the 1996 US Open.
No one gave Roddick a shot, and from his opening serve to his congratulatory words to Federer after the match, he did it all with class.
Judging by the crowd at Centre Court, I'm not the only fan Roddick gained today, as spectators were quick to put aside the desire to see history and root for a guy who played the match of his life.
So take advantage of this, Roddick—get to the net, stay aggressive, and at Flushing Meadows this August, play to the crowd and get your fans (new and old) pulling for you.
I'll be watching, and I'll be rooting.
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