By GEORGE VECSEY
Sports of The Times
September 6, 2007
It was the ninth of August, summer of 2003, when Andy Roddick beat Roger Federer in a semifinal in Montreal.
"It's about time," Roddick said that day, smiling at his own audacity. "No one beats me five times in a row."
Roddick can be a funny dude, full of sardonic asides while coping with spending his career bumping into Federer in major tournaments.
Since that day in 2003, Federer has now beaten Roddick 10 consecutive times, including last night's quarterfinal at the United States Open, when Federer edged Roddick, 7-6,(5) 7-6 (4), 6-2, a match so close that it left Roddick tense at serving so well and still losing in straight sets.
"I didn't make mistakes," he said. "I'm not walking off with any questions."
Roddick generally walks the fine line between being what no athlete at this exalted level wants to be — the proverbial good sport — and the kind of cranky loser that Serena Williams was on Tuesday night.
Roddick has been equal parts respectful and remorseful while running up a record that is now 1-14 against Federer in official tournaments. He did beat Federer in the final of an exhibition in Melbourne early this year, but that does not count for much.
None of this has been easy for Andrew Stephen Roddick, who totally understood that it was not a terrible tragedy to play his heart out in a full arena in a quarterfinal of the Open.
"I'd have to be completely out of touch not to realize that and appreciate it," he said afterward.
Roddick does not have the hustler's patience of Brad Gilbert, his coach for that memorable match in 2003, or the monomaniacal gall of Jimmy Connors, his current coach. If naughty Jimbo had run into a serene force like Federer during his estimable career, he would have aggressed the gracious Swiss or upended the potted flowers at center court or bent the rules about bathroom breaks or trainer visits, just to disrupt the flow.
Jimbo is older and wiser now, sitting in Roddick's box last night and looking conservative of dress and demeanor. He knows Roddick will not pull any of his patented disruptive stuff. He urges Roddick to concentrate, to play hard, but it's not easy.
Although Roddick is still relatively one dimensional, throwing serves 10 miles per hour faster than Federer's, he does have top-five skills. Still, he finds himself locked outside the rivalry between Federer and Rafael Nadal. Now, with the aching Nadal bounced out Tuesday night, there is busy-haired and versatile Novak Djokovic looking to invade that rivalry — three in a marriage, as Diana, Princess of Wales once said in a context decidedly not about tennis.
That leaves Roddick to confront his own place in the world, often with a smirk and a comeback as quick as Federer returning his serve.
The other day, a sportswriter suggested that because of defaults by two injured opponents, Roddick had not yet found his "emotional rhythm" in this tournament.
"You sound like my therapist," Roddick said.
The other night when Tomas Berdych had to default, Roddick admitted, "Then, of course, I'm trying to eavesdrop on his whole conversation he's having with the trainer." One reporter said Berdych was having trouble breathing. "Yeah, that's what I heard," Roddick added. "That makes tennis difficult."
The transcripts from Federer-Roddick outings, courtesy of asapsports.com, demonstrate that Roddick has been mostly a mensch, an adult, even after his worst moments. Immediately after the 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 83-minute drubbing by Federer in this year's Australian semifinal, Roddick used words like frustrating, miserable and terrible, and even earthier than that. "Besides that, it was fine," he added.
Asked after that match whether he would read about it the next day, Roddick replied, "Probably not. But it's kind of tough, though. I read the sports section every day of my life. I'm going to kind of have to like maneuver my way around it somehow — like get an oversized coffee mug, kind of like smoke and mirrors or something."
When Roddick lost to Federer in the finals at the U.S. Open last year, he said, "He's the best player in the game. There's no question in my mind or if you ask any player's mind about that."
After the three-set loss in the Wimbledon final in 2005, Roddick said, "You know, listen, I want another crack at him till my record is 1-31." And he added, "He's the measuring stick, so you kind of know where you are and where you go. I still want to go against him again. You want to compete against the best.
Roddick also volunteered: "I have loads of respect for him, as a person as well. I told him, I've told him before, 'I'd love to hate you, but you're really nice.' "
Isn't there something negative about Federer? "I'm sure there is, but I don't know if I know him that well," Roddick said, adding, "I can look into it for you."
To date, he has come up with nothing. But in showing respect for Federer, Roddick has earned respect for himself.