Sunday, July 05, 2009

5 Ending In 3

Roger Federer of Switzerland (R) holds his trophy after defeating Andy Roddick of the U.S. (L) in their Gentlemen's Singles finals match at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, July 5, 2009.

This is uncharted territory for me. I have no idea how to navigate it.

You see, back in 2004, when Andy Roddick lost that heartbreaking Wimbledon final to Roger Federer, a match which defined the trajectory of their respective careers -- someday I hope to write that essay with as much objectivity as a Roddick fan can muster -- I wasn't writing a tennis blog. Yes, I was commenting all over the internet on various message boards, but people weren't coming to my "house" to read what I had to say about that match.

I wasn't going to write anything today at all. I made it clear after Roddick's victory over Andy Murray a few days ago that I took it personally. I doubt anyone who reads here regularly has to imagine what's going on with me today.

But I'm going to do the best I can and that is all I can do. Dapxin is the one to blame.


It was an unexpected yet familiar turn of events.

I remained glued to my couch, laptop on my lap, although I couldn't bring myself to type a single word to anyone anywhere while the action unfolded. I told my husband before the tournament began that this was Andy's year, it was in the numbers, that he was going to win this title no matter who he faced in the final, including the man that has ruined too many of my Sundays. No. I never wrote that out on the blog, because whether I can or not, I didn't want to jinx my guy. I'm superstitious that way.

So when Roddick held 6-2 in the second set tiebreak, I took deep breaths, held my husband's hand, and prayed.

Didn't turn out quite like I wanted it to.

But as Roddick said after the match, he decided to keep going and I kept on praying. I didn't quite expect what happened next. In past matches, an early Federer break in the following set would set the stage for a runaway train.

Not this time.

And so when Roddick got it to another tiebreak, my hope was restored. My prayers answered with a resounding Yes. That is, until he fell behind by a large margin. Still, he battled back and dropped another set by the closest score a set of tennis has to offer.

Hubby, who is not exactly a fan of Roddick but, to my disbelief, was more wound up than I was, decided to return to the kitchen to watch the rest of the match. That's where he watched the first set. The set Roddick won behind a single a break of serve. And sure enough, like magic, Roddick won the fourth set behind a single break of serve.

He didn't move from the kitchen for the rest of the match

Fast forward to 14-14 in the final set. If someone had told me Roddick would be at 14-14 in the final of Wimbledon against Federer without having dropped his serve, I'd have told you to get that nonsense out of my face. But there we were. I couldn't breathe. Surely serving second in the final set would take it's toll, but he'd overcome that giant barricade in the quarterfinals against Lleyton Hewitt. And who can forget him overcoming that giant barricade in the 2003 Australian Open quarterfinal against Younes El Aynaoui that MadProfessah and Matthew referred to during the match? (Yes, Matthew, I love that shot, too!)

Who would blink?

I've never seen Raja serve so many aces to stay in a match. When people diminish Andy's game for being just a serve, they seem to forget it's a shot, just like a forehand or a backhand or a volley. It remains the best shot in the game, and it served him well all fortnight.

But what failed him in the final set was his return of serve. He refused to cheat to his left in the ad court to make Federer serve up the T. Federer served exactly two first serves in the latter stages of the final set up the T in the ad court. At least that's all I remember. Mostly, he fired his flat serve out wide, no matter the score. And Roddick stood by and watched the ball go by so many times I lost count. And I was counting. I'll never watch this match again, but if I did, I probably wouldn't be surprised to see half of Federer's aces came in the ad court. Out wide. As Roddick stood by and watched the ball go by.

Larry Stefanki is clearly a good fit for Andy. But if he didn't talk to Andy about Raja's flat serve out wide on the big points....

No, I'm not blaming the coach. He's working his magic. That much is clear. Roddick participated in the longest Wimbledon final in the number of games played and certainly by the fifth set, he ought to have gotten the picture. But alas....

When Roddick got those two break points at whatever juncture he got them, Raja first served outwide in the deuce court to the forehand, got a meek reply and put away the winner. Even though Andy got his racquet on the flat serve out wide in the ad court on the next point, it was a one-hand stretch return which took awhile to come down through the shadows, but it was still so short, Raja was able to hit another winner.

Clearly, Andy had gotten over the 6-2 lead in the second set tiebreak, and so had I. Too bad John McEnroe couldn't. For my money, Andy lost the match when he failed to place either of those two returns deep enough in the court to get a neutral rally started.

That's what lawn tennis is really all about. The return of serve. The grass helps a mediocre serve like Hewitt's win lots of cheap points. But it always helps a good return push a player back and start a rally at neutral. That is why Raja has had such success on grass. Despite his career-high in aces today, his return of serve won him the match, while Andy's lost it.

That's what the entire dramatic, exquisitely played match was reduced to. The return of serve in the high-stakes final games of the fifth set.

As everyone has guessed, I'm wiped out and didn't think I'd even have it in me to write this post. Not sure when I'll write another one. But I will.

Enough has already been said about Raja's piss poor judgment after the match so I'll follow Roddick's classy example and just leave it be.

For now.

I will say, though, that Savannah has not deleted a single comment from this blog. I have. I do it rarely, but I do it when I don't like the tone, not the content, of the comment. That's my prerogative. I could turn on comment moderation and not allow any comment to go live until I read it, but that takes too much work, and I'm not interested in that kind of control. And open threads would be useless.

There is no Orwell here. Disagree without being disagreeable and without calling other posters names or characterizing their frame of mind. I'm just not interested in reading any of that on this blog, so I won't allow it to stand. Like it or lump it. I really can't bring myself to care today.

Andy played an amazing match. Of course I was proud of what I saw from him -- there was blood in the blades -- but that doesn't make me feel any better. He lost. His dream will have to wait for another time. Raja played an amazing match as well. He always does at this event. And once again, he was better between the lines than his opponent, but only slightly.

Still, it was enough to hoist his sixth Wimbledon trophy and break Pete Sampras' record. Nope, I can't stomach Raja, and after today's post-match behavior, I doubt I'll ever watch another one of his matches again. But this result is what it is. And what it is stands as a remarkable achievement in this sport I love so much.

Now if only he would... Nah. I can't wish him any harm.


So close. So far.

I said that this year's Wimbledon was all about the numbers three and five. And it was. Even though today's result didn't turn out quite the way I wanted. But the fifth set ended with 30 games and in numerology, 30 becomes 3.

5 sets ending in 3.

A final I may never get over and certainly never forget.

And I will continue to pray.


sykotique said...

Fair, balanced, objective.

Nice recap. Condolences. Get some rest.

Karen said...

Thank you and you know why. I love you very much. Never ever forget that.

Tennisfan said...

xoxoxo Craig...

cms said...

Very sorry Andy lost today. I really am.

Beth said...

Andy gave every shred of his being. We prayed for him, sent him every positive thought and vibe out there....God bless him this evening and I hope he can sleep in the peace of knowing he gave right down to his core. Love you Craig. Thanks for coming 'home' and writing. God bless you too......

oddman said...

I love you too, Craig.

We may not get over the loss, but we'll learn to live with it. Andy knows too much about loss. Ahhh, well...

How I love that kid. Eviscerating as it was to watch him fight back his emotions at the ceremony, I can't help but feel as proud of his as if I were his mother, proud of the way he comported himself.


BTW, you did a fantastic job with your piece here. Pretty hard to do, when emotions are roiling. Great job. But I'd expected nothing less :)

(huge smothery mothery hug for you)

pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pat said...

your piece wraps up pretty much of what i felt today during and after that match, after the match was over i felt empty, all the excitement i had during the match (after the first set i couldn't sit down and i watch standing in front of the tv, yelling at it), all that excitement dissapeared, as i fell on the couch and just stay there for a while.-
and then seeing andy's press conference brought it all back, i just wanted to crossed the screen and hug him :)
keep writing... i love you posts, they very often read what i'm thinking :)

pat said...

in my previous post is cross instead of crossed

Veruca Salt said...

Commiserations Craig. I know how much you wanted this for Andy. I can truly say I understand how you feel.

gail grimmel said...

wow.. sometimes i feel Roger Federer is like President Obama.

Personally, I'm not a fan of either of them, and I didn't vote for Obama as a libertarian, but I think their opponents and detractors try to harp on little things and fail to appreciate their greatness.

Despite my ideological differences with Obama, I agree that he is a level headed, eloquent and inspiring leader who is far better than any politician in this era. People try to diminish him by saying that he is overrated and there is a lot of cult-like hype around him, and that he is just benefiting from the fact that the Republican party is filled with incompetent politicians, but it just really shows that there isn't an answer for him right now.

Similarly with Roger, people try to dismiss his competition, or get angry about his logos (its the norm in sports), or his supposed arrogance, but they also fail to recognize that he is a clutch tennis player with incredible endurance who produces some amazing tennis at just the right time.

In any case, as time goes on, Obama will have his stumbles and Federer will be beaten, but their critics should learn that nitpicking and harping on trivialities really just amounts to personal biases and is not the best method of persuasion.

Pamela said...

That's a first. Roger Federer compared to President Obama. I can't even articulate how I feel about that. I don't see how anyone can say that Roger is not given his due. He's given it by his fans who liken him to a God, the press, his peers and of course - himself.

Anyway, take a breath Craig and take solace in the fact that Andy is not a quitter. If nothing else, this proved to him that he CAN win those big matches. Time heals all wounds.

gail grimmel said...

I think you missed the point. People who aren't big fans of Obama think the press treats him with kid gloves, and critics said during the primaries there was a lot of messianic hype associated with him. Google "Obama" "messiah" and you'll see what I mean. Critics harp on malfunctioning telemprompters or other trivial things, but fail to see that Obama is light years ahead of the competition.

Similarly, people who aren't big fans of Roger focus on his post match comments, lack of depth in mens tennis, or his logos and corporate sponsorships, or other trivialities to diminish his greatness.

My point is that critics don't focus on relevant things when dismissing the two men. Instead they harp on media bias, cult like glorification, supposed ego, and alleged arrogance.

I say that as a libertarian who was a strong supporter of Ron Paul and as a fan of Nadal.

You probably don't see it because you support Obama and aren't in love with Roger, but I think the comparison is accurate. I think its important not to confuse confidence with ego. Besides, all humans are narcissists (which I guess to some amounts to poor judgment).. Some hide it, some embrace it. People who go out of their way to hide it could be dubbed as fake as well.

Pamela said...

I got your point Gail, I just don't see it as a relevant comparison although I appreciate you taking the time to break it down.

People generally are far more sensitive to criticism when it concerns their favorites. The media is what it is, they build people up just to tear them down and earn a profit. That is and has always been the case. 3 months ago, people were calling for Federer to retire, articles on his decline etc. Now they've adorned him in more monogrammed cream outfits and deemed him an immortal god once again. It's the cycle of life.

My point was that, at no stage was he ever not given his due for the dominance he's had over men's tennis. What he has done is remarkable, no matter whether you're a fan or not. You can't diminish that level of greatness. I don't think it's trivial to point out the air of entitlement that seems to surround him. It's just a perception of a player. Athletes are often associated with their personality. It is what it is.

By the way, welcome if you're new. This is the first time I've seen you here.

Veruca Salt said...

i don't think it's craig's intention to try persuade anyone to change fandom allegiances,gail. he has a certain opinion about federer and he uses his blog to express it. you can either agree with him or you don't.

besides, what you consider "trivialities" may very well be considered as legitimate criticism by others. actually i'm kind of tired of being told that i shouldn't dislike federer because he's done this or that. fine, he's won 15 titles. golf claps on that, doesn't mean i should have to kiss his brow or hold my tongue when he does or says something i find distasteful.
you know, i could have been a federer fan had it not been for the fawning press, the clueless clothing company, and the rabid fans, or in your case gail-a neutral "voice of reason".

but now, no way. no how.

oddman said...

Great great responses, Pamela and Veruca Salt. Said everything I was thinking. And welcome, gail.

oddman said...

anonymous, he isn't female, and yes, he has a husband.

dapxin said...

But somebody always does break. You know it, both players know it.

And Federer simply wasn’t prepared for it to be him. And so, in the 30th game of the fifth set — how absurd it feels to write those words — Roddick made a series of small errors, errors that Federer had been waiting for, errors that Federer pounced on without a shred of compassion.
Simon Barnes of the Times


I take a deep breath, thank you Craig, so long as we live, we eternally hope.

all square now. thank you.

Katri said...

It was a hell of a match, wasn't
it? My heart goes out to Roddick and his fans, including you Craig, of course.

I have to give credit to Roger for winning Wimbledon final tie breaks, this year like last year. Serving is what served him well yesterday.

Today Roger is back as world number one, and Rafa is number two. Can't wait for Rafa to come back.

Roddick, he will be back too :-)

Beverly said...

Craig, condolences on an incredibly tough, heartbreaking loss.

Andy deserved to win that match more than the arrogant Federer did, given that he actually broke twice while Federer could not until the end when, clearly, exhaustion and the pressure of holding serve 10 times in the sudden death situation was just overwhelming for the truly unfortunate Roddick. Federer did not even have to hit a good shot to get the final break. All he had to do was wait for the inevitable pressure and attrition which resulted in Roddick's two unforced errors, handing him the match.

Andy must be congratulated for his beyond-amazing feat of holding on to his serve for so long in such a tough situation. It's one of the many ways a certain amount of unfairness cannot be removed from tennis. Roddick deserved better but life is often unfair. Some get more than they deserve, others less than they deserve. I am not a fan of Andy's but his courage and effort have been outstanding. In the end the simple misfortune of serving second in a fifth set with no tiebreak, pure exhaustion from a tougher draw and perhaps the effects of his fall on the grass played a part in Andy's final unforced errors, allowing Federer to escape with yet another lucky win.

It's interesting that even Federer admitted he was lucky but of course that didn't stop him from crowing later. His habitual smugness and embarrassing self-praise is lowbrow, crude and over the top and would be soundly condemned if it came from anyone else (and being good is never justification for being a self-centered, egotistical, boastful jackass) but it's what he's always done since he began to have success. Roger seems to be incapable of empathy although he has learned to mouth certain platitudes to bolster his image though they sometimes fall flat or come out wrong because of his lack of sincerity.

I'm curious about the specific reasons why you might not ever watch another match of Federer's. Were you serious about that? What exactly was it in his post-match behavior that was such a turnoff? That would be a big decision.

If you'd rather not deal with further questions while the pain from this terrible loss is still so raw, I understand.

quirkyindian said...

Before the 2009 Wimbledon, I had never thought very highly of Andy. But this year was revelation. He's changed his game, and he's improved tremendously. And after watching him against Hewitt and Murray, I was rooting for him all the way. Was absolutely gutted when he lost. But he played very well, and while losing hurts, especially when you are so close, I hope he comes back with renewed confidence and self-belief. I hope he continues this quality of play - it will make him a serious contender.


Quirky Indian

serviceace1969 said...

Greatness can be ruthless, particularly if the individual or team you support is the frequent victim of it.

I used to despise the Yankees, Duke Blue Devils, and Tom Brady (actually started out a fan of his) because they always won, beat the times that I rooted for, and I thought they were were smug, arrogant, and cocky in victory.

Yet, I have always loved Tiger and Jordan even though they are just as ruthless and just as smug and cocky in victory.

When I realized that I had double standards for certain great athletes and teams, I realized I should just appreciate their greatness and felt much better about myself and less bitter about certain outcomes.

Plus, double standards often lead to idolatry which is never good because you find pleasure or get let down by a certain human you don't even know.

Now I just enjoy watching tennis, basketball, and football and admire the great ones even if their victories have elements of ruthlessness to them. People are of course entitled to play favorites and employ double standards... you can't change how people think, but I was grateful when it was pointed out to me.

Roddick certainly matured at Wimbledon and was very very gracious in defeat, which is a nice change from some of his past antics on the court. He certainly is progressing as a player and as an individual.

stitchy said...

My condolences to you as I know how much of an Andy fan you are, but I just wanted to say that, having re-watched the match a few times myself, Federer's serve placement was actually pretty balanced throughout the match as well as during the waning moments of the final set.

This NYT blog post ( also confirms this. Not that it matters... but I do think that Federer deserved the win as much as Roddick did. They both played extremely well, but, like Sampras said, the great ones just find something extra to win sometimes.