So Close But Yet So Far: The Vanquished Heroes of Tennis

FrankieAnalyst IJuly 6, 2009

Being a huge, massive, somewhat unhealthily obsessed Roger Federer fan, I settled into my armchair at 1.30pm UK time on Sunday 5th July 2009 ready to watch my favourite player ever break Pete Sampras’ record of fourteen Grand Slams.

The thought of Roger reclaiming his Wimbledon crown (the outcome of that epic match against Rafael Nadal last year was a bitter pill to swallow for Federer and his supporters) and the number one ranking brought a feeling of immense pleasure. I also basked in the glory of the possibility of him joining Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal as a player to have won both the French Open and Wimbledon, back to back, in the same year.

And all of this to take place in front of the legends of the game: Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver. What a perfect moment it would be!

But the match turned out to be something which (I think) most of us were not expecting.

Reading many of the preview articles on both Bleacher Report and the Internet in general, the verdict was pretty much the same: Roger would win in straight sets or possibly be pushed to four. Boris Becker, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Tim Henman, in fact practically every “expert” (i.e. past tennis player) who was interviewed at Wimbledon was predicting an easy(ish) win for Roger.

And who can blame them? After all, it would not be a muscular Spaniard on the other side of the net. Instead, Roger would be facing in Andy Roddick an opponent who he had beaten eighteen times out of the twenty they had met.

But while we were all preparing for history to be made, Andy Roddick had other plans.

Roddick hadn’t just beaten the other Andy in the semi-finals through sheer luck. Andy Murray is the world number three and was the second favourite for this title. Everyone was hyping up a Murray-Federer final before the tournament had even begun.

Roddick had had to work hard to set up a third meeting with Roger Federer on the second Sunday of Wimbledon. And work hard, he did. (Let’s not forget that he also had to play a marathon five setter against Lleyton Hewitt before facing the crowd favourite in the semis.)

So when it came to the day of the final many of us knew that this would not be the Andy Roddick of old. We had seen his match against Murray. We expected a high first serve percentage, improved fitness, more volleying and a solid backhand (its days of liability seemingly over). But we doubted whether this would be enough against one of the greatest players to have ever picked up a racket.

But it almost was…

What we could not have foreseen was the huge amount of heart that this guy brought with him as he stepped on court. Sure, Andy has always been one of the hardest workers on the tour. As he himself has acknowledged, he never gives anything less than his best.

However, in his past matches against Roger Federer there was always a sense of inevitability. As soon as Roger had the upper hand there was a sense of “over and out” for Andy.

So when Andy lost the chance to go up two sets to love against Roger in Sunday’s final by losing a second set tiebreak in which he had four set points, many of us were wondering how he would respond. Many of us were probably thinking “over and out”.

And the response of Andy Roddick is what gave us another classic and unforgettable Wimbledon final. (And also gave Andy a few more fans, no doubt.)

He gave it his all. Even when Roger went on to win the third set in a tiebreak (and let us not forget, Andy is the master of tiebreaks, having won 26 out of the 30 he had played this year before entering this match) Andy did not get dejected. Instead he fought back, never letting Roger break his serve and getting his reward when he broke Roger in the fourth set to take it 6-3.

As a Federer fan I was on the edge of my seat. My heart was pounding. My hands were sweating. As the match entered its fifth set I did not know which way it would go. Roger had not managed to break Andy’s serve once throughout the match, even though he had had several break-point opportunities. It looked like it might finally be the American’s moment of glory…

And a funny feeling came over me. As much as I wanted Roger to win, I felt as though I would not mind too much if Andy got third time lucky in his attempt at the Wimbledon title.

By all rights I should not have been having these little niggling thoughts. The American hope had just knocked out the British hope only two days ago and we Brits have not had a player of Andy Murray’s calibre for a long while. But like the crowd on Centre Court, I could not help but admire Mr Roddick as he took Mr Federer to a fifth and deciding set.

And what a fifth set it was! Each man determined, neither willing to give in. Unfortunately for Andy, it was he who caved in first, finally allowing Roger to break him in the thirtieth game of the set (thirtieth!) and for the first time in the match.

Only the best could have outlasted the American in this match…

The fact that the crowd on Centre Court started chanting his name at the end of the match says a lot about Andy. He had just lost to a man who is arguably one of the most popular players to have ever graced the game and who had given the crowd a piece of history to witness…yet they, and I, could not help but feel for the guy who always comes up short against Roger. And this time it was only by the tiniest of margins.

If there is anyone who deserves a Wimbledon title, it is Andy Roddick. His last success at a Grand Slam was six long years ago at the US Open in 2003. Since then, Andy has had to overcome many heart-breaking defeats in important matches, and most of them at the hands of the History Man.

So although I am ecstatic that my favourite player has made history, reclaimed his Wimbledon crown and the number one spot, my heart still breaks for the man who gave it his all and is still the perennial runner-up.

The fact that Andy managed to hold it together and crack some jokes after losing (such as apologising to Pete Sampras for not holding Roger off his record for a little longer) says a lot about his character.

Andy Roddick’s loss has made me think back to other times when I have felt gutted for the runner-up. These have always been the times when a match has gone the distance and the loser has given it their all and yet still not come out the victor.

It hurt when Roger Federer lost the Wimbledon final last year after having fought back from being two sets to love down to take it into a deciding fifth set. It hurt even more when he lost to the same opponent in a similar manner in Australia six months later.

It hurt when Novak Djokovic lost out to Rafael Nadal for the third time this year on clay, in Madrid. The boy in blue shoes even held three match-points against the king of clay and still ended up the loser.

It hurt when Elena Dementieva was denied her first Wimbledon final by Serena Williams only a couple of days ago. Again, Elena had match-point against Serena but just couldn’t convert.

It hurt when Fernando Verdasco gave it his all against his fellow countryman in that classic semi-final in Australia, and he was still sent packing.

I could probably go on for a while here but these are the most recent epic matches that come to mind. Both competitors in these matches were deserving of glory. But unfortunately, in tennis there can only be one victor. The trophy cannot be split in half.

Andy Roddick has admitted that this is probably his toughest Wimbledon loss.

So close but yet so far…that is what hurts the most.

So I’d like to dedicate this article to all those players who have given us tennis matches to remember but did not get the outcome they so desired. The vanquished heroes… here’s to you!


(On a side note, I realise that the winner in most of the matches I have mentioned ended up being Rafael Nadal. Before I get slaughtered by Nadal fans I just wanted to say that I have absolutely nothing against Nadal, I really like the guy (except when he beats Roger!) and respect all that he has done and think that tennis is much more exciting with him around. It just happens that he has been on the winning end of most of the epic matches this past year!)

(On another note, I am so delighted for Roger Federer. It was wonderful to see him break the record in front of all the tennis legends at Wimbledon. I would probably be devastated if he hadn’t won – life is a double-edged sword, eh?)