Rarely does top-quality international sport find a way to compensate gallant losers and there are few tougher venues on the global calendar than New York for settling old scores. But if the Big Apple has a heart then it should find a way for Andy Roddick to re-emerge as the king of Flushing Meadows in two weeks' time.
Roddick was the last man to win the US Open before Roger Federer made the Arthur Ashe Stadium his own domain by winning the coveted title five times in a row. It would be fitting if the archetypal all-American college boy, who has now matured into an impressive young man, turned out to be the one who dethrones the sublime Swiss. It is less than two months since Roddick came agonisingly close to spoiling the lavish party arranged for Federer at Wimbledon to celebrate the world No 1's all-time record of 15 grand-slam titles.
Had Roddick made a simple backhand volley in the second set of that epic final or played one or two crucial points slightly better in a marathon deciding set, then the array of VIPs gathered on Centre Court that day would have had to reassemble in New York in readiness to witness the historic moment in sport. Roddick was inconsolable that balmy summer evening after seeing Federer clinch a 16-14 fifth-set verdict.
Why, he asked, could it not have been his turn after losing two previous Wimbledon finals to Federer? And why, he added, did Federer have to be so resilient having triumphed at the All England Club five times already? Many new admirers were won over that day by Roddick, who has been accused, on occasions, of unnecessary surliness on his travels. The world No 5 recognised that increased popularity as he celebrated his 27th birthday yesterday.
"I would be lying if I sat here and said I totally understood all the adulation," he said. "But it definitely made it easier to kind of motivate to get back on the court - helped the recovery process. "It was pretty humbling. I'm very thankful for the support that I have right now because it's been fleeting throughout my career. I hope it stays." If Roddick, who has lost four grand slam finals to Federer, is going to make a significant improvement to a dismal record of 19 defeats in 21 meetings with Switzerland's finest, he will do so at the semi-final stage here.
He has been drawn in the same half as Federer and the fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic, whom he is scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals. Djokovic, like Roddick, has a solitary grand slam title to his credit, having shocked Federer in the final of the Australian Open last year. But the Serbian has failed to push on from that career zenith and it will be a surprise if he, rather than Roddick, earns a last-four date with the defending champion.
Most attention in the bottom half of the draw, especially in the first week, will be on Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard began the year as the most solid of world No 1s but has now slipped to third in the rankings after being seriously undermined by tendinitis in both knees. He has been cautious about talking up his chances after recently returning from his enforced lay-off but is an obvious threat to Federer's plans to secure a 16th grand slam, bearing in mind that he tends to beat his arch rival whenever they meet in the final of major competitions.
To extend that run, Nadal will probably have to find a way past Britain's Andy Murray, in what would be a fascinating match up in the semi-final. The Scot was runner-up last year and he is as confident as anybody in this hardcourt environment. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org