Saturday, July 4, 2009

Men's Final Preview: Federer Eyes 15th Grand-Slam

Andy Roddick has never lost at Wimbledon with Brooklyn Decker as his wife.

Too bad for him that the theme of tomorrow's Wimbledon Final may very well be that records are made to be broken.

Wife or no wife, Roddick's chances against the 14-time Grand-Slam and 5-time Wimbledon champion look pretty bleak. His 2-18 record against Federer can attest to that, as can his 0-6 record against the Swiss Maestro in Grand Slams, or his 0-3 record against Federer at Wimbledon. Should I go on or do you get the point?

But there is something about the transformation that Roddick has undergone this year under the tutelage of newly hired coach Larry Stefanki, and the level of commitment and belief that he seems to embody these days, that is different from the Roddick of the past few years.

"I'm excited about this one," said Roddick. "I didn't know if I was going to get to play a Wimbledon Final again. I'm certainly thankful to have the opportunity."

But Federer has undergone a resurrection of his own over the course of 2009. Practically written off by everyone except for himself after his heartbreaking loss to Rafael Nadal in Australia this winter, the great Federer went into a tailspin the likes of which we'd never seen him endure.

His once fluid and easy grace seemed forced and mechanical - so much so that not even he could believe what was happening.

Then, in a strange and remarkable chain of events that seemed to start with Nadal's stunning upset in Paris, Roger became Roger again. It wasn't sudden. It was more like the evaporation of a lingering doubt that finally disappeared in the heat of a Paris spring.

That doubt is clearly gone now. Rafa's stunning upset and subsequent injury have opened the door for Federer, and he's clearly up to the task of walking in and taking what he's always believed to be his - the 15th Grand-Slam and the parking spot outside the tennis hall-of-fame reserved for "the greatest of all-time."

Tomorrow's final will be the third Wimbledon final between Federer and Roddick. Roddick took the first set of their first final, but he wasn't able to take another set, losing in '04 in 4 sets and in '05 in straight sets.

The pair have a long and one-sided history, with Roddick usually coming in to their matches like a lion and going out like a lamb. Roddick's patented booming serve seems almost docile when Federer is standing the other side of the net against him, and Roddick's kamikaze charges to the net against Federer almost always seem to end up in vain.

Even when Roddick has managed to play well enough to win against Federer, he's been unable seal the deal in tight sets - he's 3-10 in tiebreakers vs. Federer.

At times Roddick's failures have seemed to stem from psychological shortcomings - he doesn't really believe he can beat Federer so his body is just doing what his mind is telling it to do, but at others it just appears as if Federer is on another planet - a place that guys like Roddick only get to visit for a thrashing.

That being said, Roddick has clearly benefited from the hard work that he has done to get himself into top physical form this year. We've seen him outshine Novak Djokovic in the Australian heat this winter, and after a solid run (best of his career) in Paris, he's come to Wimbledon like a man on a mission. His win over Andy Murray yesterday may have been the most impressive of his career - not just the win but the fact that he outplayed Murray from the baseline, and tactically as well.

If there ever was a time that Roddick might believe that he could actually give Federer a match on a stage as grand as this, this could be it.

But Federer is so good at moments like these, it's truly hard to imagine him letting this golden opportunity to ascend to the peak of the tennis world once and for all slip by.

Not only will he become the only player to win 15 Grand-Slams with a victory - he'll also regain the no. 1 ranking that he lost to Rafael Nadal in August of 2008.

"If you achieved a lot like I did for so many years, and then you don't win some tournaments, people say you're on the decline very quickly," said Federer. "But I hope it opens some eyes at least these last few months, because they have been very different maybe from what people expected."

In mid March, not many people expected that Federer would be on the verge of rewriting the history books tomorrow, nor did they imagine that Roddick would be the man he would be trying to do it against.

Regardless of the outcome of tomorrow's Wimbledon final, tennis fans can be sure they'll be pleasantly surprised when it's all over.


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