WIMBLEDON, England (AP) - Roger Federer was playing for history.
Andy Roddick was playing the match of his life.
On and on they dueled, Federer trying for a record-breaking 15th
major championship, Roddick striving for his second, in a Wimbledon
final that required more games than any Grand Slam title match in
the considerable annals of a sport dating to the 1800s.
"Ten games all, final set," intoned the chair umpire. Then,
"Twelve games all, final set." And, still later, "Fourteen games
all, final set."
They were each other's equal for four full sets and nearly the
entire 30-game fifth set. Until Federer, far more experienced in
such matters, finally edged ahead, breaking Roddick's serve for the
only time in the 77th and last game to close out a 5-7, 7-6 (6),
7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 victory Sunday.
The epic match - the fifth set alone lasted more than 1½ hours -
gave Federer his sixth Wimbledon title. Add that to five from the
U.S. Open, three from the Australian Open and one from the French
Open, and Federer's Grand Slam total rises to 15, one more than
Pete Sampras, who flew in from California on Sunday morning to be
"He's a legend," Sampras said. "Now he's an icon."
Indeed, Sampras already was among those labeling Federer the
greatest tennis player ever, and there's no doubt the 27-year-old
from Switzerland keeps bolstering his case.
"It's not really one of those goals you set as a little boy,"
Federer told the Centre Court crowd during the trophy ceremony,
"but, man, it's been quite a career. And quite a month."
Federer won the French Open four Sundays earlier to complete a
career Grand Slam and tie Sampras with 14 major titles (Margaret
Smith Court owns the women's record of 24).
"Sorry, Pete," Roddick said. "I tried to hold him off."
He weathered Federer's career-high 50 aces and his 107 total
winners in the longest match and longest fifth set in major final
history, topping marks set in 1927.
The tennis gods - as well as Sampras, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg,
all in front-row seats - must have enjoyed every moment of the
4-hour, 16-minute tussle. Federer, who can make it all look so
easy, was forced to work darned hard to eclipse Sampras' mark, and
Roddick was left heartbreakingly close to finally winning
Roddick dropped to 0-3 in finals at the All England Club, also
beaten by Federer in 2004 and 2005. After the match ended on a
shanked forehand by the sixth-seeded American, the two men hugged
at the net. A mere handshake wouldn't do.
The winner donned a specially tailored white jacket with a gold
"15" stitched on the back, while the loser - a word that hardly
seems fair in this case - slumped in his chair, head bowed, until
rising to acknowledge the spectators' chorus of "Rodd-ick!
"Sports, or tennis, is cruel sometimes. We know it," Federer
said. "I went through some five-setters in Grand Slam finals, too,
and ended up losing. It's hard."
A year ago, on the same lawn, Federer's five-year reign as
Wimbledon champion ended in a 9-7 fifth set defeat against his
nemesis, Rafael Nadal. Six weeks later, Federer relinquished to
Nadal the No. 1 ranking after a record 237 consecutive weeks at the
But Nadal did not defend his Wimbledon title, citing sore knees,
and Federer not only regained his championship at the All England
Club - the Grand Slam he says means the most to him - but returns
to No. 1 Monday.
"It's staggering that I've been able to play so well for so
many years now and stay injury-free," Federer said. "I knew what
it took to win the big ones. ... It's crazy that I've been able to
win so many in such a short period of time."
Sampras - whose 14th major title came in his last match, at age
31, at the 2002 U.S. Open - and his wife appeared in the Royal Box
during the changeover after Sunday's third game. Walking to the
baseline directly below, Federer acknowledged Sampras with a nod of
the head and a little wave.
"I thought, 'I don't want to be rude,' you know?" Federer
He wept with joy after his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon
in 2003. And he bawled in the locker room after his 40-match
winning streak here ended against Nadal in 2008. This time, Federer
kept it together, perhaps because he was too exhausted after a
match chock-full of contradictions:
- Federer's ace count was one shy of the Wimbledon record and,
most remarkably, 23 more than Roddick, who is better-known for his
- Roddick broke serve twice in the first four sets; Federer,
considered a superior returner, couldn't come through until the
match's concluding game.
- Federer won both tiebreakers; Roddick is the one who began the
day 26-4 in those set-capping races to seven points.
Then there was the most counterintuitive piece of all: that
Roddick would even stay close, much less be on the verge of
victory, given that he came in 2-18 against Federer, including 0-7
at major tournaments.
Roddick made quite clear, quite quickly, that he is a
new-and-improved version, delivering four passing winners by the
time the match was 13 minutes old - three with his backhand, long
his weaker side.
And he broke Federer to close the first set. It happened
suddenly: Federer won 21 of the first 24 points on his serve, but
Roddick took three out of four in a blink, earning the last point
of that set with a backhand down the line that drew a wide forehand
The crowd roared, sensing an upset. There were more rumblings
when Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion, went up 6-2 in the
second-set tiebreaker. Here, then, were four chances to take a 2-0
lead in sets.
Roddick might have been forgiven for thinking, "Wow, I'm one
point away from leading Roger Federer two sets to none in the
Wimbledon final." He certainly played as though burdened by
looking ahead, letting all four set points slip from his grasp.
Most discouraging was the last, when he wildly misplayed a backhand
volley. It was part of a six-point, set-ending run for Federer.
How does someone recover from that? Somehow, Roddick did.
"At that point, like everything else, there's two options: You
lay down or you keep going," he said. "The second option sounded
better to me."
Roddick lost the third set, too, but rallied to take the fourth,
and then came the fifth. Wimbledon doesn't use tiebreakers in fifth
sets, and there were times it seemed Federer and Roddick would play
into the night.
Federer faced a serious test at 8-8, though, when Roddick earned
two break points with a backhand winner down the line. Federer
saved the first with a 118 mph service winner, and the second with
a volley winner. There was not another break point for either man
until Roddick served while trailing 15-14.
At deuce, Roddick sailed a forehand long, giving Federer his
seventh break point of the match. Until then, he was 0 for 6. But
this was also a championship point, and Federer converted.
"Frustrating, at times, because I couldn't break Andy 'til the
very, very end," Federer said. "So satisfaction is maybe bigger
this time around to come through, because I couldn't control the
match at all."
As he enjoyed the first post-victory moments in the locker room
- a more muted celebration than usual, owing to Roddick's presence
- members of the grounds crew entered and presented him with the
Centre Court net. Another keepsake for Federer's ever-more-crowded
This was the first Wimbledon with a retractable roof on Centre
Court, a modern touch for a stadium that opened in 1922.
But this edition of the tournament wound up being almost
entirely dry, with only two matches contested with the roof shut.
This final was played with the blue sky above. The tennis gods must
have wanted a good view.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)