A moment in time: Roger Federer beats resilient Andy Roddick in 2009 Wimbledon final
When it comes to the most celebrated men’s tennis trilogies in major finals, there are quite a few to dissect from the SW19 vaults. Fedal III is the one that still spills into the classic of all classics category. Likewise, Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic III in 2019 was another epic where the Serbian simply refused to yield against the Swiss despite “losing” on all the other statistical metrics of the day.
Roger Federer v Andy Roddick III is the least-discussed dark horse of the family. When Wimbledon was Federer’s bedfellow – before Rafa came along to threaten his king-size duvet dominance of Centre Court – the man from Nebraska was seen as the most likely to depose the world No 1 from his empire.
However, there was one obstacle that Roddick could not overcome as he admitted in Mardy Fish’s documentary, Breaking Point: “Roger is both the best defensive player and the best offensive player in the world. How… how do you tackle this? ”
Roddick’s final head-to-head record against his nemesis was 3-21. None of the former world No 1’s three victories came in any Grand Slams. Despite his rocket serve and thumping forehand, it was generally observed that A-Rod’s all-round game was not sophisticated enough to deal with the movement and tactical acumen of peak Federer. Roddick lost to Federer in seven finals. Without the constant roadblock, he would have surely had more than one miserly major on his CV.
The five-time Masters series winner had employed Larry Stefanki as his coach at the back end of 2008. Stefanki knew a thing or two about squeezing every last drop from his charges, who included John McEnroe, Tim Henman, Marcelo Ríos, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando González.
This sharp-tongued, no-nonsense approach was designed to challenge and cajole and to add more major silverware to that solitary Flushing Meadows title in 2003. His first question to his new client was as direct as they come: “How much did you weigh when you won the US Open title?”
With fitness sorted out, improvements came quickly as Roddick reached the semis of the Australian Open before losing to RF again. He had worked on his technique, hitting his forehand much flatter while adjusting coordinates at the net, ensuring that volleys were more lithe than lunging.
Stefanki was in bullish mood as the green green grass of SW19 came into view: “I think he’s as capable as anyone to win on the grass – and I’m talking Wimbledon.” The 26-year-old survived a five-set encounter with Lleyton Hewitt in the quarter-finals and then took down 22-year-old Andy Murray in the semis with an impressive display that dismantled the passive Scot and ruined home hopes for another year.
Federer’s passage was relatively serene after the trauma of a first Wimbledon final defeat to Nadal the previous year. Surely the Swiss would prevail in front of Pete Sampras, who was watching on to see the five-time champion surpass his record of 14 Grand Slams. That was the straightforward storyline.
Indeed, Roddick joked later: “The Royal Box, in terms of the status of the former players who were there to witness Roger’s record, made me feel like the guy who was trying to shoot Bambi that day!”
Federer looked the part in the early stages on his territory. Why wouldn’t he? Roddick was not made to beat him up at Wimbledon – only to give him an early scare as he had in 2004. Well, the same happened here. Federer couldn’t convert four break points in the 11th game and suffered the consequences in the next when he failed to hold serve with three unforced errors.
The Roddick bombs, supercharged by serving first, continued to rein down in the second set all the way up to a tie-break. As the sixth seed bumped up first serve accuracy to 80 per cent, backed up by punchy volleys, Federer found himself staring at a two-nil deficit as he trailed 6-2 in the breaker. Three set points were saved and then A-Rod was asked to put away a simple Stefanki-coached volley. He lunged. It was six-all. The next two points were lost in a blur that could have swallowed the American’s focus right there.
Tim Henman said: “It’s going to be a huge test of character right now to see if he can hang in there.” The test got even harder when the No 2 seed claimed the next set on another tiebreak to move within touching distance of that sixth crown.
Mid-2000s Roddick might have fallen away but his mid-twenties version had added more than raw meat to the bones. When the chance came to break in the fourth, the new lean machine wowed the crowd as a screaming backhand made his opponent look like a stranger to the net.
Federer tried to claw back the deficit but simply could not get close enough to break the 140mph enemy artillery which was unbreached for over four hours that day. It was two-all and we were going all the way.
The two of them fired shells at each other with no fifth set tie-break to end the trench warfare. At 8-8, Federer stumbled as Roddick rumbled with a whizz of a backhand slice followed by the cleanest of backhand topspin winners down the line. Two break-points would be virtual match points in this form. However, a return bounced out and then the world No 2 hit a drive volley that would have made lesser players lose more than a heartbeat.
On it went for another 13 games with the American beginning to suffer a few chinks from the scoreboard pressure of always going second in the decider. At 14-15 and over 90 minutes of last set drama, a mistimed forehand on match point went spinning to the heavens to give Federer the Championship. Centre Court roared for the man who gave everything and ended up with nothing.
The champion mentioned that he was sure Andy would win the trophy one day in his acceptance speech. If looks could kill…The vanquished later said: “I know I didn’t come up on the right end of it, but I don’t know that I could have played or executed a game plan better than I did…”
A decade later, it would be Federer’s turn to try and work out how he had lost to Djokovic in an epic fifth-set battle. It’s a cruel game.
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