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Federer becomes history major with dramatic victory

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Associated Press
July 6, 2009
— 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.


They were each other’s equal for four full sets and nearly the entire 30-game fifth set. Until Federer, 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 12 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 on hand.


“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 winners in the longest match and longest match and longest fifth set in major hist-


t-inal 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 Wimbledon.


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 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 straight weeks at the top.


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 today.


“It’s staggering that I’ve been able to play so well for so many years now and stay injury-free,” Federer said.


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.


Federer 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 knee-buckling serves.


-- Roddick broke serve twice in the first four sets; Federer, considered a superior returner, couldn’t come through until the match’s final game.


-- Federer won both tiebreakers; Roddick is the one who began the day 26-4 in those set-capping races to seven points.


There were 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.


But Federer rallied by scoring six straight points.


How does someone recover from that? Somehow, Roddick did.


Roddick lost the third set, too, but rallied to take the fourth, and then came the epic fifth. Wimbledon doesn’t use tiebreakers in fifth sets, and there were times it seemed Federer and Roddick would play into the night.


As Federerenjoyed 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 trophy room.


WIMBLEDON FACTS & FIGURES

Facts from Sunday’s final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick:


-- Roger Federer’s victory over Andy Roddick made him the first man to win 15 Grand Slam singles titles, passing Pete Sampras’ 14 titles from 1990-02. Federer won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003.


-- This was the longest men’s Grand Slam final in history at 77 games. The previous record was 71 games (1927 Australian Open championship between Gerald Patterson and John Hawkes). The previous Wimbledon record was 62 games (last year’s Wimbledon final between Federer and Rafael Nadal).


-- This was the longest fifth set in a men’s Grand Slam final. The previous record was 11-9 (1927 French Open final between Rene Lacoste and Bill Tilden).


-- Federer served 50 aces, a personal mark and one behind Ivo Karlovic’s Wimbledon record of 51. Federer’s previous best was 39 aces against Janko Tipsarevic at the 2008 Australian Open.


-- Federer’s 182 career victories in Grand Slam events is fifth best in the Open era. He reached this victory mark at 27, younger than any of those ahead of him. The closest are No. 3 Ivan Lendl (222) and No. 4 Sampras (203), who reached their 182nd victories at 29.



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