WIMBLEDON, England -- The match that seemed endless ended too soon for Andy Roddick. If the man who beat him in one of the greatest Wimbledon men's finals isn't the finest tennis player in history, he'll do for a long while.
Roger Federer proved he has courage and staying power, as well as some of the finest strokes ever, by hanging on to defeat Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 on a Sunday when Centre Court couldn't take much more suspense.
|Andy Roddick pushes Roger Federer to the limit and beyond. (US Presswire)|
"Thanks for coming, Pete," said Federer, the 27-year-old Swiss. "It's such a pleasure to do it in front of such great legends."• Federer wins 15th major | Pain for Roddick | Slams
Besides Sampras, the famed royal box included Bjorn Borg, Manolo Santana, Ilie Nastase and Rod Laver, champions all who had come to see whether Federer could produce on demand.
And despite Roddick -- the American doomed to become the other man in these dramas, having now lost to Federer three times in a Wimbledon final -- Roger managed to do what was needed.
"My head is still spinning," Federer said after a match that, because there are no tiebreakers in the fifth set at Wimbledon, went 4 hours, 18 minutes.
The 16-14 set, which required 1 hour, 35 minutes, is said to be the longest fifth in a Slam, bypassing the 11-9 in the 1927 French Open, when Rene LaCoste defeated Bill Tilden. Talk about legends.
Roddick will not be spoken of with those two, or with Federer, who beat him for the 19th time in 21 meetings, eight of those in Slams, four at Wimbledon.
Rather, he will be discussed as the unfortunate individual who came along at the wrong time, the guy who did everything possible except overtake Federer.
It seemed he might in this third consecutive Wimbledon final to go five sets -- Rafael Nadal beat Federer last year -- Roddick let his chances get away. Or maybe Federer, as winners do, grabbed them.
Asked if he lost to the world's greatest tennis player, Roddick sighed, "Yeah."
In the second set, Roddick led Federer 6-2 in the tiebreak and at 6-5 had a volley to win the set. But the shot was wide, and Federer, with six consecutive points, went on to even the match at one set apiece.
"There was a pretty significant wind behind him," Roddick said of the shot, which went wide. "When he first hit it, I thought I wasn't going to play it. Last minute, it looked like it started dropping. I couldn't get my racket around on it."
Federer ended up winning the tiebreak 8-6 and in time he would win his sixth Wimbledon.
There was no falling on his knees this time. Rather, when Roddick shanked the final shot, Federer leaped like some NBA player about to hit a dunk shot.
"I'm sorry, Pete," Roddick said, addressing Sampras with his typical flippancy. "I tried to hold him off. But it was a pleasure playing here today. Pete, Manolo, I still hope someday my name will be up there with theirs as a winner of this tournament.
"But I just want to say congratulations to Roger. He is a true champion and deserves everything he gets."
In the great dream here, the men's final of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships would have been between Federer and the Scot, Andy Murray. In anticipation, some people paid $2,000 to $3,000 for tickets.
Maybe the Brits didn't get what they wanted, but you can get what you need, as the Rolling Stones sing -- and you can't get much more English than they are. What tennis always needs is a final full of drama, a final in which every point is critical.
That's what happened Sunday.
Roddick used more than his powerful serve -- his fastest was 143 mph -- to stay even with Federer. He wasn't broken once until the very last point of the match, holding serve the first 37 times. But Federer won the tiebreakers and eventually the match and the title.
In the fifth set, when the score got to 14-13, it seemed as if somebody had missed an extra point rather than a first serve.
In somewhat of a reversal of expectations, Roddick was strong in rallies, Federer on serves.
"He served great," Roddick said. "If he hadn't served as well, I'd probably be sitting here in a better mood." Federer had 50 aces, Roddick only 27.
When asked what makes Federer what he is, Roddick shrugged. "I don't know where to start," he said. "He makes it real tough. He was having trouble picking up my serve today for the first time ever. He just stayed the course.
"You didn't even get the sense he was really frustrated. He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things, but not how many matches he digs deep and toughs it out. He doesn't get a lot of credit for that because it looks easy for him a lot of times."
It wasn't easy. "This could have gone on two more hours," said Federer. He already was wearing a warmup jacket with a golden "15" on the back.
That puts him one ahead of Sampras, of course, and 14 ahead of Roddick, whose only Slam victory came in the 2003 U.S. Open. For a while, the way he played, the way he battled, there was a thought he could wrench away a second.
But when someone asked him to describe what he did, Roddick could only say, "I lost."