LONDON // Andy Roddick, who delivered the most dignified of speeches in his heart-breaking role of Wimbledon runner-up for the third time, must have felt like punching the six-time champion Roger Federer after the Swiss master's victory message. "Keep going Andy - you'll win it one day," said Federer to his gallant opponent who had pushed him all the way through the longest deciding set in grand slam history. Federer was trying to console his opponent about how he felt when he lost to Rafael Nadal the previous year.
"But you had five titles already and I had none," said Roddick who has now lost three times to Federer in finals on the most sacred of the All England Club lawns. Roddick's commendable composure in front of the sporting world was replaced by sheer frustration when he met the media several minutes later and he apologised a few times for the brevity of his disconsolate answers. "How would you describe what you did today?" was one of the early questions he faced. "I lost," was the reply.
"I'm not a celebrity - get me out of here!" was the phrase that sprang to mind just before Bud Collins, a 70-something American doyen of the tennis writers, shouted out before the regulation 10 minutes of interview time had passed: "Let's liberate this guy," to which Roddick stood up and left to spontaneous applause. He deserved that warm ovation - a rarity in such environments - for playing his part in the third epic Wimbledon final in succession, a final he could and should have won.
In normal circumstances a serve that holds solid for 37 games would be rewarded with the victory spoils but Roddick was not up against any normal opponent. Federer refused to be fazed by the fact that his own serve had broken twice during the time he tried in vain to break Roddick's and when match point arrived unexpectedly at 15-14 in a thrilling final set, Federer swooped on it in the manner he has done so often on the way to gaining immortality in his chosen profession.
But it should not have gone that far, and Roddick knows that. The high backhand volley he fluffed when poised to take a two-set lead could have changed the course of history (or at least delayed it) as could the two break points he squandered at 8-8 in the fifth. When Roddick - who has withdrawn from the forthcoming Davis Cup quarter-final with Croatia because of a hip injury - is able to analyse his 2009 Wimbledon more thoroughly than he was prepared to do on probably the most disappointing night of his life, he will conclude that he is a player reborn.
That vital ingredient of self- belief has been engendered by his new coach Larry Stefanski, who has added more aggression into the American's game, a quality which the coach thought was lacking in Roddick's semi-final opponent Andy Murray. His increased willingness to go for winners makes Roddick a strong contender, along with last year's beaten finalist Murray, to dispose Federer in New York. As for doing the same at Wimbledon one day, that chance may have disappeared with that errant backhand volley on Sunday afternoon.