2009 in Review: Highlights of the Tennis Season (Part 3 of 4)

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2009 in Review: Highlights of the Tennis Season (Part 3 of 4)
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The Grass: Surely not again?

The grass court "season" is stock-full of tradition, heritage, and perhaps the most famous tournament in tennis: Wimbledon. The buzz around this event is certainly unique, heightened by the fleeting opportunity to watch a different brand of tennis. 

Andy Murray began his pressure-filled three weeks by securing the title at the Aegon Championships at the Queen's Club, defeating James Blake in the final. The Brit showed some sparkling tennis to win the prestigious warm-up event for the first time.

With Federer opting out of defending his title in Halle, Tommy Haas took advantage and dispatched Novak Djokovic in the final to secure a rare title. The German had successfully followed up his promising form in Paris and showed some of that clean hitting that took him to No. 2 in the world. 

WIMBLEDON

The man of the moment and favourite to claim the title was Swiss Roger Federer. Coming of the historic win at Roland Garros, he would most definitely arrive with a whole heap of confidence in his bid to reclaim his most beloved trophy.

After the 2008 epic between Nadal and Federer, it would surely be too greedy to have expected anything of the sort for a successive year. There was, however, a more pressing issue than the potential quality of the men's singles final.

Serious rumours were floating out of the defending champ's camp about the poor state of his knees. The signs were not good: Nadal pulled out of Queens and lost two exhibition matches at the Hurlingham Club. Extremely disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the Spaniard chose to abandon his title defence. A rather hollow feeling was left in the draw, but the tournament continued nonetheless. 

In the Mallorcan's absence, Federer was given the honour of opening proceedings against Taipei's Yen-Hsun Lu. Roger produced a brilliant moment with a backhand around the net post which he pinged for a winner after telling the ball kid to "get down."

The Swiss takes like a fish to water when he steps onto the grass. Majestic in his movement and varied in his choice of shot, it is sublime viewing. He strode through his first four matches, dropping a rare set to Philip Kohlschreiber along the way. 

Home favourite, Murray, looked edgy in his first match against the awkward American, Robert Kendrick, but found his way through. He subsequently turned on the style with straight set victories over Gulbis and Troicki.

Novak Djokovic, entering Wimbledon after a runner-up finish in Halle, looked rusty in his first round match against the talented Frenchman Julien Benneteau. But he too began to hit his stride and forged his way into the last eight without a hitch.

There was a notable scalp early on for Lleyton Hewitt. The 2002 Wimbledon champ certainly knows how to play on the lawns of SW19 and found some of his old school class in defeating rising Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the second round. The younger man certainly has some way to go to adapt his game to the grass.

Hewitt went on to battle past a two-set deficit against Stepanek in the fourth round to claim a place in the last eight for the first time since 2005.

Twice a runner-up at Wimbledon, Andy Roddick is not the easiest man to beat on a grass court. The American quickly dispelled his injury woes that forced him to retire from his semifinal at Queens. He ground through several four-set encounters to reach the quarterfinals for the fifth time in his career.  

The All England Club had witnessed the installation of a new roof over the Center Court. Funny enough, the first use of the sliding cover was not used for rain but ensuing darkness. British hope Andy Murray produced a dramatic performance against Stanislas Wawrinka to thrill the public and highlight the value of a floodlit, indoor court. The five-set match was a physical melee, and the Scotsman showed how far he has come since his collapse against Nalbandian four years ago.

Tommy Haas had continued his fine form on the grass in London. He showed that he still had a spring in his legs and nerves of steel in his topsy turvy classic against Marin Cilic.

The Croatian had battled so well from a two-set deficit and even gained the upper hand in the deciding set before the German clawed his way back. Despite a suspension due to poor light, the match seemed to simply flow on the following day, and it was the veteran who clinched the victory 10-8 in the fifth.

His next target was Novak Djokovic, whom he had vanquished just a fortnight ago in Germany. Haas once again proved that he could stick with the best at the key moments, securing a place in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since the Australian Open in 2007.

Hewitt and Roddick, who have a rivalry that spans a decade, faced off for a place in the last four. The match was extremely high quality, with both men showing their ability to play on the turf.

The Australian put on a classic display of grit and determination to take Roddick to the brink. A-Rod found another gear towards the end of the match, taking advantage of a few errors to grab a break and hold on. He was once again edging towards a crack at the trophy.

Murray played and beat Juan Carlos Ferrero for the second time in as many tournaments. The Brit looked ready to take the step towards the Grand Slam glory that he and an entire nation has so craved.

Federer had to overcome the 6'10" Croatian Ivo Karlovic in the quarterfinals. The Swiss knew how tricky an encounter this was, especially as Karlovic had played impressively in beating both Tsonga and Verdasco to reach this stage. Federer came out with some sharp returns to twice break the most prolific serve in tennis, riding his fine form into a clash against Tommy Haas.

The German had pushed Federer to the very edge of defeat in Paris before succumbing in five sets. This time round, Federer found something special when it mattered most to win 7-6 7-5 6-3. A seventh successive final was on the horizon and a potential fifteenth Grand Slam victory. The history books were opening once more.

Andys, Roddick and Murray, were lined up for a last four bout in the sun. The Scot was favoured to win the match due to his record against Roddick, which stood at 6-2. The American, however, had clearly not read the script.

He looked resolute in his aggressive style of play but also threw in some unexpected craft to throw Murray off balance. After losing the first set 6-4, the Scotsman immediately made for a shift in momentum by breaking serve in the first game of the second set and holding on to level matters.

Playing in the moment, Roddick took his chance in the third-set tiebreak. Despite having let slip a 5-2 lead in the set, the American pulled out an obscene drop volley to save a set point at 5-6 before securing a two set to one lead.

The fourth set was premium quality all the way through. Murray amazed with his cross court forehands, while Roddick put on a show at the net that compatriot John McEnroe would have been proud of. Once again, the tiebreak loomed.

Roddick took full advantage of Murray's weaker second serve, and although the Scot pulled out two unbelievable backhand passing shots, he failed to find a third and succumbed 7-5. It was not the anticipated final, but with Roddick playing better than ever, even Federer would have to be at his best to reclaim his crown.

A year on from what is hailed as the best match of all time, Federer once more strolled onto court with a familiar foe beside him. Twice the Swiss had denied the American his dream of holding up the golden trophy, and many expected the same outcome.

Federer was a match away from eclipsing Sampras' record of 14 Slams and regaining the world No. 1 ranking, but even he could not have anticipated the lengths to which he would have to go to achieve his goals. 

Both men came out with an air of calm. After all they had done this twice before. Yet, it was Roddick who found the magic at 6-5 with a scorching cross court angled forehand winner and some aggressive play to get an early lead.

The five-time champion held comfortably throughout the second set, but failed to make any sort of impact on his opponent's relentlessly brilliant serving. The set rolled to a climax in the tiebreak. Once again, Andy Roddick looked as though he had found his best in the crucial stage.

Trailing 2-6, Federer executed one of those absurd backhand half-volleys that seems to be a regular weapon in his arsenal. With two strong service points he had cut the deficit to 6-5, but the American had one chance left on his serve. A strong forehand approach gave Roddick the volley he could only had dreamed of to put him two sets up in a Wimbledon final.

Somehow, he made an absolute mess of it and allowed Federer a chance to steal his way back into the match. As you would expect from the Swiss, he knuckled down to secure the tiebreak 8-6, winning six points in a row. Within a flick of a switch, the tide had turned.

The 2003 US Open Champion refused to cave. He valiantly held serve throughout the third set and found his way into another breaker. This time, however, Federer denied Roddick the chance to gain a lead. Executing on a couple of fabulous forehand passing shots, the FedExpress steamed his way to within a set of a sixth title in SW19.

Yet to be broken, A-Rod remained steadfast in his belief that he could triumph. He built his chance early with courageous approaches to the net and broke Federer for the second time in the match. With winners effortlessly flowing from his racquet, the American rode his way into a deciding set for the first time in a Wimbledon final.

The tension was comparable to 2008. Surely not again would we have a Wimbledon final to remember forever. The Center Court has witnessed some of the most memorable moments in tennis, and this match had every reason to be up with the best.

Both men looked to find a way to gain the fatal break. Federer had yet to crack Roddick's delivery despite several chances. The American dealt with the pressure of serving second superbly, denying the world No. 2 the chance to run away with the set early on.

With everything on the line, A-Rod forged two break point chances at 8-8 with a searing backhand winner down the line. Federer would not allow his dream to slip away, finding two first serves to shut out his opponent. 

On and on the match went into the late afternoon. The quality remained sky high and everyone gazed on, enthralled by the intensity of the battle. Federer began to sling his forehand into every corner of the court and continued to hold onto his serve, pushing a game ahead. Each time, Roddick responded with his own serve to stay in the match. 

Finally, in the 30th game of already the longest fifth set in Wimbledon history, Roddick began to crack. A couple of mishit forehands provided Federer with his first chance to break serve since the second game of the set. At championship point he snapped up his chance after the American struck another forehand off the frame. 

With Pistol Pete looking on, Roger Federer broke his record of 14 Grand Slams, grabbed his sixth title on the turf at Wimbledon and regained the world No. 1 ranking. History hung in the air and joy filled the Swiss man's face, but it was the most bitter of defeats for Roddick. As always the American was graceful, courteous, and witty—a man who truly deserves more respect than he is credited. 

The final of Wimbledon had yet again provided the stage for remarkable events, 4 hours and 16 minutes of brilliant entertainment and tension that forced many onto edges of seats. 

After just over seven unreal weeks, Federer had turned his year from slump to triumph. What could be next for the soon-to-be-father? Rafa had left a void in the tournament, and his return was eagerly anticipated, but question marks remained as to how quickly and well he would bounce back.

The players turned to the American hardcourt swing and an altogether different challenge. Drama, lights, and entertainment like no other are top of the bill in July and August as the Grand Slam season comes to a climax in New York.

Would it be six in a row for Darth Fed, a career Grand Slam for Rafa, or perhaps another pretender would take the reins and shake the natural order up? The city that never sleeps does guarantee one thing: blockbuster excitement.

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