For love of the game
No Hollywood ending, but I'm happy with my finale
Posted: Monday June 25, 2007 5:27PM; Updated: Monday June 25, 2007 5:38PM
WIMBLEDON, England -- I can tell you from first-hand experience on Monday that life doesn't always imitate art.
I pulled out For Love of the Game from my DVD collection Sunday night for motivation with my encounter with Andy Roddick. Unfortunately, I didn't get the happy ending that Kevin Costner did.
While I'm not much of a Costner fan, I thought the movie was appropriate considering I knew this probably was my last Wimbledon. Like Costner's character, Billy Chapel, I hoped to go out with a bang. In the true sense of a Hollywood ending, the veteran pitcher threw a perfect game in his last career start.
On Monday, I certainly did not, and succumbed to the better player, 6-1, 7-5, 7-6 (3). I guess the upside of choosing the movie turned out to be looking at Kelly Preston for 90 minutes.
Sadly, the reality for me is I probably played my last singles match at Wimbledon. I tried my butt off, but Andy served like few are capable of (first-serve percentage: 74). While it's never fun losing, playing against a great champion on Court 1 at Wimbledon will leave me with many great memories.
I got off to a brutal start when the tournament organizers decided to throw us out on a damp court as soon as the rain halted for a little bit. Roddick and I were both surprised that they had us out there. Andy even remarked sarcastically to the umpire that, "They must really want to make sure they don't have to pay refunds if they have us out here now."
Andy handled the abrupt start a lot better then I did, and it took me a while to find any rhythm. The slickness of the court made my ordinarily lackluster mobility even more of a liability, and that's saying a lot! Andy remarked that the sight of me moving back to defend his lob on breakpoint in my opening service game looked as if it would be tough to slip a credit card underneath my feet.
After taking a beating in the first set, I found a pretty good service rhythm, but I could never break through. Roddick put a lot of pressure on me by serving so well. It felt like I was digging volleys off my shoelaces while he was playing a game of target practice during his service games.
That's one of the great challenges in playing Roddick. He serves so well that you know any slip-up on your service game is going to be increasingly costly -- that's what I attribute to duffing the forehand volley that gave Andy the break at 5-5 in the second set.
The third set all went to serve, and one of the most rewarding experiences of the match was a marathon, 10-deuce game that went back and forth before I finally held serve. Down double break point, I hit one of the best diving volleys of my life. Andy later told me he called "Bullsh--!" on it -- in plain English, that means he thought it was extremely lucky.
Andy and I are quite friendly; I have a ton of respect for him and told him that after the match. He does things the right way, trains hard, plays hard and enjoys himself in the process. In my opinion, that's all you can ask of someone.
He and I have quite a bit of history: I used to play doubles with his brother, John, back in juniors and I practiced with Andy in Hawaii before he left for the Australian Open in January and in Paris after our first-round losses at the French Open.
The fact that Roddick has Jimmy Connors in his corner only made the experience of playing Andy even more bittersweet. At one point in the first set, I couldn't help to think that I was getting my butt kicked in front of one of my childhood idols.
I had a lot of things going through my head late in the match, but for the first time in my life, my motivation was to remain on court and prolong the experience as much it was to find a way to win. I was very aware that this could be my last singles match at Wimbledon, and to know I'll never again be able to experience the feeling I had today is, for lack of a better word, a bummer.
It's a tough way to say goodbye to the All England Club, where I've had a good amount of success and some of the best memories of my career. But I couldn't have chosen a better, classier opponent to bow out to. I didn't get my perfect game, but all my memories here are for love of the game.
I fully expect Roddick to get to the semifinals and meet up with Roger the Great. Good luck, Andy.
A public apology
I want to publicly apologize to Andre Agassi's agent, Perry Rogers, and some other members of the ATP after I abruptly and inappropriately accused them of foul play that contributed to my board of directors election loss last weekend.
I'm by no means going to hide behind the customary "I was misquoted or misrepresented" bogus lines that often accompany these types of apologies. I made comments out of emotion and disappointment, and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Rogers on being re-elected to the ATP board. I believe the game is in good hands with him helping to navigate its future.