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TENNIS

Andy Roddick gets another shot at Roger Federer in Wimbledon final

Roddick defeats Andy Murray in a stirring four-set semifinal. His reward: Playing Federer, whom he lost to in the 2004 and 2005 finals.

July 04, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — The Austin, Texas, airport and Centre Court at the All England Club seldom turn up in the same sentence or even paragraph, but the heady recent plight of Andy Roddick has melded them as evocative benchmarks.

Suddenly, it has grown relevant that as eyeballs all over the planet went rapt last July 6 over a Wimbledon men's singles final for which even "mesmerizing" might not suffice, nobody gave a hoot about the tennis afterthought hanging around that airport some 4,915 miles west.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer treated everybody to the unforgettable, while Roddick ranked among the forgotten 32 players banished in the second round. Janko Tipsarevic had done the dishonors, and Roddick departed London and spiraled into "a hard, hard couple of weeks" before doing the regular-guy thing and visiting his Other Half's family for the Fourth of July.

"I think we were coming back from North Carolina and landed and they were heading into the fifth set," Roddick said Friday on one of the better days of his 26-year existence. "You know, I didn't want to watch, 'cause it's tough watching, 'cause you wish you were there. Especially the kind of mental state I was in at that point, it hurt to watch. And then, you know, I landed and it was the match that it was. You know, there was no chance of me getting out of that airport before it was finished."

There he stood watching as an elapsed star, a former No. 1 player, a 2003 U.S. Open champion, surpassed by forces such as Nadal, Novak Djokovic and soon enough Andy Murray, still ranked No. 6 if anyone cared.

There he stood Friday on Centre Court holding his hand over his baseball cap in incomprehension of what he'd done, still ranked No. 6 -- and everyone cared.

With his gripping mastery of No. 3 Murray and all the attending British din by 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) in a semifinal, following on his five-set wriggle through Lleyton Hewitt in a quarterfinal, Roddick had gone all the way from the Austin airport on one Wimbledon final Sunday to striding out to Centre Court with Federer on the next, even if proving that to get from Austin to Wimbledon, you do have to change planes.

He had gone from wondering earnestly whether the 2006 U.S. Open might have been his last Grand Slam final to tacking on a third Wimbledon final against Federer, the elegant giant who somehow has graced 16 of the last 17 major finals -- the latest by dint of his 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3 passage through Tommy Haas earlier Friday that secured his seventh consecutive Wimbledon final and 20th appearance in a Slam final, both records.

Now all that stands between Federer and the record of all records -- a 15th Slam title -- is Roddick, who along his three-year road back found his way late last fall to Larry Stefanki, the cocksure former coach of John McEnroe, Tim Henman, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Gonzalez, among others.

"What intrigued me," Roddick said earlier this Wimbledon, "was the fact he's worked with left-handers, right-handers, guys who come in, guys who stay back, absolute head cases, guys who are quiet on the court."

Stefanki, the former tour player and nobody's yes man, set about streamlining Roddick's thinking and insisting he streamline his body.

By Friday in the English sun, Roddick moved around the court liquidly. Through four taut sets against a surging 22-year-old craftsman who had beaten Roddick three straight times and dismantled him in the third round of the 2006 Wimbledon, Roddick calmly repelled umpteen prospective visits from negativity, his former sidekick.

He served like Andy Roddick, doled out demanding approach shots and won 48 of a whopping 75 net approaches. He forgot mishaps. He appeared the more vibrant player as he drove Murray off the court to serial inconvenience.

"Let's face it, he's won Davis Cup," Stefanki told Inside Tennis magazine during a post-match interview. "He's won a Slam. He's a great competitor and now it's all coming together and he's relaxing a little bit. We've talked a lot about that, almost changing his presence and maturity on the court. And he's done it and I'm proud of that, of his changing that after all these years of hype, hype, hype. I said, 'You have to find a calm space, a flow.' "

Roddick said of Stefanki, "He's certainly, you know, well-studied. Kind of picks the right times to discuss stuff. You know, it's not always the same, it doesn't feel monotonous. Not always the same time that he picks and chooses to talk about an upcoming match. You know, I certainly got the sense that he believed that we could get back to this point. You know, that was large."

Much as McEnroe found a reborn surge with Stefanki in a later career phase in 1992, Roddick has gone to the Australian Open semifinals, his first French Open fourth round, and to the curtain call on semifinal Friday before an admiring audience he applauded for its passion, wherever directed.

From there, he all but skipped out, ambled up the steps toward the locker room and suddenly halted. He bent over briefly and tried to "make myself maybe believe" what had just happened, and he did so right there in the staircase and really quite far from the Austin airport.

--

chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com--

Wimbledon

TODAY'S WOMEN'S FINAL

Venus Williams vs.

Serena Williams

TV: Ch. 4, 6 a.m.

SUNDAY'S MEN'S FINAL

Roger Federer vs.

Andy Roddick

TV: Ch. 4, 6 a.m.

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