Serena Cruises and Andy Roddick Astonishes

I expected Serena Williams to take the Wimbledon title despite her protests. Andy Roddick’s win over Andy Murray was a different story altogether.

The Championships - Wimbledon 2009 Day Twelve

After Serena Williams beat her sister Venus to take the Wimbledon title today she said, “This is one of the few times I didn’t expect to come out with the win today.” Her immediate reaction supports that statement because she looked truly astonished after the last point of the match. It took her a good while before she was in any state of mind to perform her usual four corner salute to the adoring crowd.

But, unlike the outcome of the Andy Roddick vs. Andy Murray semifinal, which was truly astonishing, I wasn’t astonished in the least. When Serena wants something bad enough, no one is standing in her way. Think about it.

First of all she was mightily mad after she lost to Venus in last year’s final. Serena lost her composure during the match and, with it, a chance get closer to the 12 slams she’s aiming for so she can tie her tennis idol Billie Jean King. She should have been going for number 12 today, instead, it’s slam number 11.

And then there’s that t-shirt she wore to the post-match media session. Written in bold letter across Serena’s bosom on her t-shirt were the words “ARE YOU LOOKING AT MY TITLES?” A not so subtle hint that she’s not happy with her number two ranking. Serena had won two of the last three slams coming in and she’s number two? No way. The family was agreed on this little matter as big sister trashed the pretender at number one, Dinara Safina, winning 54 of the 74 points in their semifinal.

Serena was mad at everything including the chopped up surface and it’s multitude of bad bounces. But she didn’t lose her composure. The sisters muddled along in the first set until the tiebreaker when Serena’s will kicked in and she hammered the ball in all directions, including over the head of tall Venus with a lob that closed out the tiebreaker 7-3. And she kept it up in the second set. She lost only two points on her serve in the set while Venus double faulted away a break in a match that wasn’t that interesting until the titanic last game when Venus fought off three match points before finally succumbing, 7-6(3), 6-2.

You may be able to will your way to a title on the women’s side, especially since Justine Henin retired and Amelie Mauresmo had her appendix taken out, but you can’t do it on the men’s side. There’s just too much skill and variety on the rackets of Roger Federer and Murray and though Rafael Nadal comes closest to imposing his will, he’s also the best retriever out there so he’s not so much imposing his will as keeping himself in 99.9% of his matches.

Our reader Sakhi is right again – Murray’s conditioning is still not good enough to win a slam, particularly his home slam what with knowing that the Queen is holding her schedule open should he make it to the final. It’s not just physical conditioning, it’s knowing that there will be at least one and possibly more than one match that will be the hardest match you’ve every played.

Murray lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Fernando Verdasco, in the quarterfinals at the French Open to Fernando Gonzalez, and now in the semifinals at Wimbledon to Roddick who played one of the two or best three matches of his life. Verdasco and Gonzalez played out of their minds too. As Murray put it, “I have played well actually, and just come up against three guys who played great, great tennis.” Yes they did play great tennis but that’s why Federer and Nadal have won the last gazillion slam titles: they win those matches.

Three Americans were still in the Wimbledon draw so you knew some tennis would bleed over to the U.S. sports radio airwaves on its day of independence. Over breakfast I had to listen to a sports commentator tearing his hair out because Roddick hasn’t made more of his talent over the length of his career. He could not have been more wrong.

Radio guy doesn’t realize that Wimbledon has done a u-turn on the poor guy with the monster serve and less than average movement skills and slowed down its surface speed with thicker grass and a bigger, heavier ball. What is a hardship for Roddick is a godsend for Nadal. And it’s worse this year with the new roof. Even when the roof is closed the overhang protects the grass more than before which keeps it from getting dry and bare – its quickened state.

Yet here was Roddick trucking up to the net as if it were his forte – which it isn’t and never has been – and looking nothing less than solid from the baseline – something else that has never been his forte. And how about those drop shots? As the ground around him has changed, he’s hired enough good coaches and made enough changes to his game to end up in the year-end top ten for eight straight years. As far as I’m concerned, he’s maxed his talent.

I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the crusty, ornery Roddick. With each new resurrection he edges closer to inclusion in my exclusive pantheon of sports heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be astonished if he beat Federer in the final, I’d be totally gobsmacked. But consistency counts for a lot.