James Lawton: Roddick's courage ensures an epic finale

Roddick can say that he challenged one of the greatest to fight as hard as he ever has

All Roger Federer wanted was tennis history wrapped up beautifully, classically and handed to him by his only rival in all the days of the game he has adorned, Pete Sampras, who had flown in from his Californian mansion for the Centre Court ritual.

Yet it wasn't and it couldn't quite be as formal as that. The complication – and it was one that whoever saw it will always remember with a little wonder and the deepest respect – was Andy Roddick. He also had a demand.

It was not on history but a few hours of one day – a day to steal from the man who has been feted like few others in all of sport.

The result: possibly the greatest, gutsiest attempted larceny the old tournament has ever seen.

It didn't work because however courageously it is attempted the odds against pick-pocketing genius are long indeed. When Roddick, the 26-year-old Texan who last Friday gave Britain's prospective Grand Slam hero Andy Murray an ultimate lesson in the need to go all the way beyond what you thought was your deepest possible commitment, finally surrendered 14-16 in the fifth set which stretched the match into its fifth hour, he had almost literally been played to a standstill.

However, if it happens that the US Open title he won six years ago – in that hiatus between the glory of Sampras, whose record mark of 14 Grand Slam titles was passed by Federer last night – and the rise of the man who in the end had just a little too much of everything, he has something to tell the grandchildren who are likely to gather around him one day.

He can tell them that he once challenged one of the greatest sportsman who ever lived to fight as he had hardly ever fought before.

This was indeed a stunning addition to the folklore of the Centre Court ... and an extraordinary evocation of so much of the drama that went into last year's final, and perhaps the best tennis match ever played, when it was Federer who was required to bend the knee to the new champion Rafael Nadal.

In the absence of the Majorcan Federer yesterday regained everything many believed he had lost in the 2008 final, perhaps for ever. It may be that Federer has indeed been diminished a little by the years, that any time before last spring he might have made easier work of extending his winning record against Roddick to 21-3. Possibly Federer does not so readily see the perfectly right shot to play in that bewildering instant which marked so many of the years which led to last night's unique landmark.

But with his 15 major titles Federer, one more than his friend and fellow phenomenon Tiger Woods, is entitled to face the future in a mood of cheerful hope and speculation. He has achieved the goal that, with the rise of Nadal, and possibly Murray, had begun to haunt him before his brilliant first win on the clay court of Paris this last spring – and last night's willingness to fight and win a tennis game of astonishing attrition.

Roddick smiled gamely and told Sampras that he had tried to preserve his share of the all-time record – and that was not the least courage he had displayed on a day when he was required to serve eleven times to stay in the match. He pulled it off 10 times but Federer simply wouldn't relax his hold on destiny. He waited and he waited, and if some of his shots lacked their usual authority, others were of a quality that made Roddick wonder if his mission was really as feasible as he had every reason to believe it was when he held four set points in the second-set tie-break. If one of those had been gathered in, Federer would have needed to produce one of the great comebacks of Wimbledon or any other corner of the globe where they play his game.

Federer survived and at one set all the watching great former champions Sampras, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and John McEnroe had every reason to believe that they were about to witness a crowning exhibition from the man who had, year by year, tournament by tournament, outstripped their own formidable achievements.

But, no, Roddick was too resolute for that. He fought back superbly to claim the fourth set. He might not be Nadal, he might not be a natural force of the game, but his service, if you happened to be facing him, came from hell and so did his resolution.

His resurrection after the first tie-break was staggering in that he appeared to be a man who had been deposited irretrievably against the ropes. When he returned to the court after a toilet break he went to the wrong end. He was disoriented and, it was impossible not to believe, broken.

For Federer it was simply a question of returning the world to its normal axis. Roddick had had a marvellous Wimbledon, one in which he had reminded his sport that once he was indeed a contender for the highest prizes, but now it was time for him to forget about causing any further delay in the ceremonials.

It was an idea curtly dismissed by the ornery Texan and his sport is surely deep in his debt. For a second successive year, Wimbledon had provided a contest which carried us to the heart and the essence of great sport.

No, it wasn't the exquisite experience provided by last year's final. There was, in truth, a certain inevitability about Federer's journey to the pantheon of tennis, but perhaps that is the kind of insight that comes when the action is over because Federer is so good, so capable of performing something so far beyond the reach of the merely talented. When Roddick was serving so relentlessly, when he wasn't being trapped in the middle of the court by Federer's ability to defy the laws of probability and geometry, it was possible to imagine that from somewhere he found a way to win.

That Federer eventually drew down an elegant curtain on such a prospect was still another statement of his champion's heart as well as his maestro's touch.

He had created his impeccable history, something beyond revision or doubt. He accomplished all he had hoped. Roddick? He took his own place in the annals of the game. It is that place where the fighters reside, the men who make the challenge ultimately so worthwhile.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game