By the measure of Andy Roddick’s career, this could be considered an accomplishment.
By the measure of his tennis Sunday, it could be considered nothing but rank disappointment.
If the array of tennis legends fittingly seated in Wimbledon’s Royal Box had had their pick of a tennis player to play guardian at the threshold of history – someone who could deny Federer his record-setting 15th Grand Slam title – they surely would not have chosen Roddick.
The most obvious choice would have been Rafael Nadal, who at times had turned Federer into a huddled mass of despair. Instead, they got Roddick, the man Federer has beaten more times than any other top player on tour.
After one particularly galling Wimbledon final against Federer, Roddick joked that he threw the kitchen sink at Federer, “but he went to the bathroom and got a tub."
In 20 previous matchups, Roddick had won two. In three Grand Slam finals against Federer, Roddick had won two sets. In short, Federer was Roddick’s Nadal.
He still is. The final score was 5-7,7-6,7-6,3-6, 16-14 to Federer, confirming the history many had come to see with a match all had hoped to see. But there must be some solace in a match of such quality, when the Roddick of years past – emotionally brittle and overdependent on the cannon blast of his serve – was replaced by a man whose tennis often seemed as fit for the Roman Coliseum as Centre Court.
Roddick played gladiatorial tennis Sunday. Federer did not break him until the 38th service game. That Federer still won such a match is testament to the less celebrated but perhaps most important element of his greatness: His grit.
“He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things, but not a lot of the time it's how many matches he really digs deep and toughs it out,” Roddick told BBC after the match.
"He was having trouble picking my serve today, for the first time ever, he just stayed the course and you didn't even get a sense that he was even really frustrated by it," he added.
Instead, in typical Federer fashion, he out-Roddicked Roddick, serving a career-high 50 aces – some to bring him back from the brink of collapse.
On the slick grass of Wimbledon, service games can often seem the ultimate anticlimax – a formal slog through four perfunctory swings of the server’s racket, then a switching of ends. Rallies of more than four strokes were to be filed away and studied by a team of scientists like endangered species.
But the fifth set was a study in the perfection of the stroke.
A month ago, Federer had arrived at the French Open final and on the cusp of history – bidding to become the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles in a career. The match that followed, however, seemed to be merely a prelude to trophy presentation, memorable only for Federer’s joyous celebration.
Thanks to Roddick, Sunday’s Wimbledon final will not suffer from such anonymity.