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Federer surpasses Sampras with Wimbledon classic

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:38

Roger Federer broke Andy Roddick’s serve just once in the five sets of the Wimbledon final, but when he did he sealed his place in tennis history by claiming a record fifteenth Grand Slam. The Swiss supremo outlasted the American in a five set epic 5-7 7-6(6) 7-6(5) 3-6 16-14 to lift his sixth Wimbledon crown, regaining the world No.1 spot in the process.

Pete Sampras arrived to gasps and applause, taking his seat in the Royal Box after the third game of the match to watch his record Grand Slam tally of 14 topped by the Swiss.

But it could have all been so different. Roddick, unrecognisable from the man that lost in last year’s third round, was following his ‘stay the course’ mantra to the letter, determined not to let Federer cruise through the final as he had in 2005 and 2004.

“It’s been quite a career and quite a month” – Federer

The match looked set to follow a similar route when Federer piled on the pressure at the business end of the first, producing four break points of the match in game eleven. But Roddick held firm, saving three with service winners and riding his luck when Federer missed a backhand pass wide.

If that deviated from the script, Roddick’s break of serve to clinch the set ripped up those expecting a procession. The American set out his stall with a stunning cross-court forehand pass from beyond the tramlines, and sealed the break when a deep backhand forced Federer to go long.

The American was playing superb tennis while Federer looked nervous, perhaps the sense of occasion catching up with him following Sampras’ arrival. Roddick never looked in doubt of dropping serve in the second, but Federer offered up little signs of handing over another break himself, and this time a tie-break was inevitable.

The breaker was crucial – if Roddick could claim it, he could seriously entertain the notion of beating Federer, who despite serving brilliantly still looked out of sorts. When Federer double-faulted, he took a lead, and when the Swiss bunted a forehand long on his way to go 6-2 up, he looked set to post a dramatic upset.

But after seeing Federer save three of the four set points with two big serves and one carefully crafted point that ended with a short cross-court backhand pass at the net, Roddick’s nerve failed him.

The American worked his way to the net with a deep approach that Federer sent looping back down the line. But after impressing so much with his volleying against Murray, indecision entered Roddick’s mind as he contemplated leaving the ball to drop long or burying the high backhand volley into the empty court.

In the end he did neither, slicing the ball past the far tramlines and out to the wails of the 15,000-strong crowd.

Roddick was clearly affected by the miss, dropping the next two points with glaring errors to lose the set and returning to the wrong end of the court after taking a comfort break before the start of the third. But Federer couldn’t find a way to make his man pay, struggling to read and deal with the American’s serve – regularly hitting the 130s and creeping up to 143mph at times.

In game six he came close, bringing up a his first break point in two sets only to see it snuffed out with another 126mph service winner. It was as close as either player came to a break as Roddick held on to Federer’s coat-tails, but this time the Swiss dominated the ensuing breaker with two minibreaks early on proving to be enough to take him one set from greatness.

“I tried – sorry Pete” – Roddick

Roddick, though, was not intent on being a footnote to history. Relishing the chase, Roddick stunned Federer in game four with a foray to the net that caught the Swiss off-guard to reach break point, and made him pay with two backhand drives to force the error with Federer up court.

The Swiss responded to reach deuce in the next game, but Roddick held firm, patiently trading blows from the baseline and serving well to reach 5-2. The American suffered a scary moment, slipping at the back of the court and hyperextending his right knee to his obvious discomfort. But any thoughts that he might be hampered by the tumble were allayed when he creamed a cross-court backhand return for a winner on the next point.

Federer stepped up a gear with Roddick serving the level the match 2-2, but it was too late. A scrambled forehand kept low enough to force Federer to net to bring up set point, sealed with a 130mph service winner.

So the Wimbledon final ran to a fifth set for the third successive year, but there had never been a decider like it in the tournament’s history. In all it took 30 games – and 96 minutes – to separate them with a single break of serve.

Federer reached break point in amazing fashion in the second game of the set, when a net cord took his backhand pass over the sprawling Roddick at the net. But once more the American held firm, aided by a 138mph ace.

But while Roddick infamous serve kept him in it, Federer’s serving was outstanding. He cannot match the American’s sheer ferocity, but his disguise and placement landed him 50 aces in the course of the match, just one short of Ivo Karlovic Wimbledon record of 51. But with both men so dominant on serve, the match rolled on towards the 3h30 mark with thoughts turning to the role that fitness would have on the outcome.

Roddick, despite going fives sets against Hewitt and four against Murray to reach the final, showed no sign of fatigue, but neither did Federer. Both men were still raining down serves, until Roddick prised an opening with the score at 8-8. The American hit winners off of both flanks to reach 15-40, only to Federer serve and volley his way to deuce and survive.

At that point, Roddick began to slow down. He could still rely on his serve to buy him enough free points to hold, but slowly he began to lose touch with Federer in the rallies. The Swiss stretched his quads between points, but did not look to be hampered at any point.

Finally, it all became too much. At 14-15, serving to stay in the match for an eleventh time, Roddick had no more. His serve carried him to deuce, but Federer won every point that reached a rally as a framed forehand and a tired backhand betrayed him. Two successive framed forehands sailed long, the second of which handed Federer victory.

There were no tears, and no collapse. Federer leapt for joy at the win, meeting the inconsolable American at the net. Roddick hugged the champion, who himself began to get emotional as he changed into a gold-trimmed jacket with the number 15 sewn into the back.

“It feels great,” he said afterwards. “It was a crazy match with an unbelievable end and my head’s still spinning, but it’s an unbelievable moment in my career.

“It’s not one of those goals you set as a little boy but it’s been quite a career and quite a month.

“This is not why I’m playing tennis, to break records, and this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop playing tennis. I hope to come back for many years.”

“I’m one of the lucky few who gets cheered for, so thank you for that,” a shattered Roddick said afterwards. “I just want to say congratulations to Roger, he deserves everything he gets, so well done Roger.”

And finally, looking up to the Royal Box, he told compatriot Sampras: “I tried – sorry Pete.”

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