WIMBLEDON, England A day before Wimbledon began, Andy Roddick stood on a slope overlooking the practice courts at the All England Club. Down below, Roger Federer was going through a training session, and Roddick sneaked a peek.
Two weeks later and a short walk away, Roddick got a much closer look in the Wimbledon final, and after absorbing a lopsided loss to fall to 1-9 against Federer, the American arrived at two conclusions:
Federer is better than everyone at everything, and Roddick would love nothing better than to keep trying to defeat the man who's by far the No. 1 player of their generation and now is being judged against the greats of generations past.
''He's probably as close as has been to unbeatable,'' Roddick said Sunday after losing to Federer at Wimbledon for the third consecutive year.
''I want another crack at him till my record is 1-31. I still want to go against him again. You want to compete against the best. He's the measuring stick, so you kind of know where you are and where you go.''
As talented as Roddick is good enough to win the 2003 U.S. Open, finish No. 1 that year at the age of 21, and now make it to the final at the All England Club two straight years he can't come close to Federer at the moment.
But that's OK. No one can on grass. And no one can, consistently, on any surface.
''The bad news,'' as three-time Wimbledon winner Boris Becker put it, ''is Roger is only going to get better.''
Since June 2004, Federer is 98-5 (a .951 winning percentage) with 15 titles that have come on grass, hard, clay and indoor courts. None of the losses came in finals (Federer's won a record 21 in a row), though two were in semifinals at this year's Grand Slams, against Marat Safin at the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal at the French Open, the only major he has yet to win and now will focus on adding to his collection.
Unprompted, Federer mentioned those setbacks during the on-court trophy ceremony Sunday after his close-to-perfect performance beat Roddick 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4. He said the losses in Melbourne and Paris meant ''the pressure was on'' at Wimbledon.
After making 33 winners and only three unforced errors through two sets and whipping passing shots by Roddick at will, Federer was told that just when it seems as if he can't get any better, he does.
''It seems like it, yeah,'' Federer said, drawing laughter from the Centre Court crowd.
What's vital for Roddick is that he keeps trying to catch up.
And that's what he plans to do.
''There's things that Andy could do to be effective against Roger. It's all a learning process and it's obviously gaining confidence in some of the new things he was trying against him,'' Roddick's coach, Dean Goldfine, said. ''His net game is getting better and that's obviously one of the keys. If you sit back there and let Roger hit from the baseline and don't pressure him, it's tough.''
The amazing thing about Federer is that he's so versatile, he can beat anybody in any way, including a demoralizing tendency to one-up opponents in their strengths.
In the quarterfinals, Federer faced No. 21-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, who hits every shot as if it's his last. Federer matched Gonzalez power for power, and displayed dazzling defense to win in straight sets.
In the semifinals, Federer faced No. 3-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, widely considered the best returner in the game and a baseline expert who's as speedy as they come. Federer looked every bit as quick and adept in lengthy rallies, faced only one break point all match while earning eight, and broke Hewitt three times to win in straight sets.
In the final, Federer faced No. 2-seeded Roddick, owner of the fastest serve and one of the biggest forehands in the game. Federer produced more aces (11-7), more forehand winners (14-3), and broke Roddick four times to win in straight sets.
''All of them are trying as hard as they can,'' Federer said. ''Obviously, for the next few years, I'll definitely be a huge favorite also for this tournament. Doesn't mean necessarily I'll take them all.''
If he's got a touch of a champion's arrogance, he's earned it.
Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras are the only other men in the past 60-plus years to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles. And Federer claimed his fifth Grand Slam championship at the same age 23 years, 10 months that Sampras was when he won the fifth of his record 14 majors.
''He loves playing at Wimbledon, he loves the game,'' Federer's mother, Lynette, said at the All England Club on Sunday. ''I hope the tennis world can reap benefits from what he is showing on court.''
It should, because Federer's sublime tennis and A-Rod's super 'tude are both good for the game. From 1983-03, the two top-seeded men never met in the Wimbledon final; now it's happened in consecutive years.
There's little reason to think it won't happen again.
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at hfendrich@ ap.org.
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