Roger Kahn was talking baseball, of Robinson and Reese and Furillo and Campy, of Newk and Duke and Branca and Hodges, not of tennis, when he chronicled the hard-luck Brooklyn Dodgers of the early 1950s. “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat,” wrote Kahn, who spent many an afternoon and evening in the Ebbets Field press box as a young reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. “Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.”
Kahn's Dodgers won pennants in '52 and '53, only to fall to the hated Yankees in the World Series on both occasions. Each year, it seemed, it was a right of passage for the long suffering Flatbush faithful to mutter: “Wait 'til next year.”
The Dodgers finally got their World Series rings in '55, but what we remember most is Richie Ashburn nailing Cal Abrams at the plate in the final game of the '50 season, nullifying all post-season hopes; the horrid 13 1/2-game skid of '51, when they once again lost the pennant on the final day of the season as Bobby Thomson launched his “Shot Heard 'Round the World” into the left field seats; and those Series setbacks.
Like those gone-but-not-forgotten “Boys of Summer,” over the last decade, we've fallen in love with Andy Roddick in defeat. Roddick, who — irony of ironies — is married to a woman named Brooklyn, won the 2003 U.S Open, and has finished inside the top 10 nine years running, joining Roger Federer as only active players to accomplish the feat. The Texan is also the only active player to win at least one ATP title for 11 consecutive years. He spent 13 weeks at No. 1, and ended a dozen-year dry spell when he led the U.S. to the Davis Cup title in '07. Those are Newport numbers, real Hall of Fame stuff. But somehow we can't forget the losses, especially the big ones. There was Andy running laps in the depths of Arthur Ashe Stadium after his two-hour, 55-minute '04 U.S. Open quarterfinal loss to a Swede nicknamed “Pim Pim,” the only way he knew how to vent his frustration. There was the '05 U.S. Open, when, amidst a multi-million-dollar AmEx campaign built around his success, he lost his mojo against unheralded Luxembourgian Gilles Muller in the opening round. There was his redemptive return to the Flushing final in '06, only to fall short against Federer. And, oh Lord, there were the three Wimbledon final losses to Federer in '04, '05 and '09. Each time, we thought, “Wait 'til next year.”
It was that last loss that got to us most, Roddick's so-close-yet-so-far 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 3-6, 16-14 defeat to the Swiss at the All England Club. If we could have willed him to win, we would have. And we all felt his pain. “Losing after great striving is the story of man…” From our cubicles, we could somehow identify more with that loss than any win. He had done the superhuman, but he was human. He won over a lot of fans that day.
Now 28, A-Rod's once punishing all-serve-and-forehand arsenal isn't what it used to be, and on Friday at Wimbledon, Roddick, who has long been burdened with carrying the American torch in the wake of the benchmark Sampras/Agassi/Courier/Chang era, tasted defeat yet again, this one a straight-sets 7-6(2), 7-6(2), 6-4 decision to Feliciano Lopez (a player he had never lost to) in Wimbledon's third round, a match in which he said he simply “got beat.”
“This year's a lot easier to deal with than, let's say, last year where I feel like I gave it away,” said Roddick, referring to his 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 9-7 shock-loss to Taipei's Yen-Hsun Lu in 2010. “He served about as well as someone has. The stuff that's enabled me to beat him seven times, making passing shots under duress, making him play defense on his forehand, he did well today. Mixed up his serve. There weren't a whole lot of patterns. He played an outstanding match.”
When they met only days ago at the Queen's Club, Roddick had emerged victorious despite 35 aces from his Spanish foe. Lopez fired 28 this time around, but won 81 percent of those first serve points, and that was more than good enough to snap the winless streak.
“I probably played like s— in third rounds and won before, too,” said Roddick, who registered 16 unforced errors and converted just one of four break-point opportunities. “The thing you guys have to understand is there's no script. Some days you're going to play well and lose, and some days you're going to play like crap and win.”
Lopez put the victory right up there with the best Grand Slam wins of his career. “I never beat Andy, so it's so important for me to win today,” said the world No. 44. “I beat a couple of great players in Wimbledon in the last 10 years [Marat Safin, Tim Henman, Marcos Baghdatis included], but to beat Andy in this court is very special, of course. I would say maybe the best.”
Roddick attacked Lopez's backhand all afternoon, but the Spaniard kept coming up with answers. In the first- and second-set tiebreakers, Lopez went for some high-risk second serves and the gamble paid off.
Asked if thoughts have begun to creep in that a Wimbledon title might never be in the cards for him, Roddick told a reporters, “Well, sure. You're human. Of course it does. You may never get your favorite job either. No offense to your current employer…You guys have a rough day at work, you get chewed out by your boss, something happens, you pick up and you move on. That's it.”
On his way off Centre Court, Roddick graciously tossed one of his Babolat rackets to a fan.
“I figured it was just going to go to waste like a doorstop or something or the bottom of my foot,” said Roddick. “I figured a seven-year-old boy would probably get more use out of it than my grass court bottoms.”
“The way I practiced and prepared the last month, I wish I would have gotten more out of it,” added Roddick, who says he hasn't played his best since last spring, when he won the Miami Masters. “I felt good coming in. Normally, when I don't play well at a Slam, you kind of don't feel on top of things. I felt on top of things since I got here. Like I mentioned before, I feel like I've played worse and gotten further before. So it's disappointing in that sense.”
It won't get any easier from here. Roddick will have the home-court advantage when the U.S. hosts a Davis Cup World Group quarterfinal on a hard court in Austin July 8-10, but he'll be facing four-time champion Spain, a team that boasts not only No. 1 Rafael Nadal, but another so-called clay-courter who just proved he can win on fast surfaces too — Feliciano Lopez. To quote Dylan Thomas, “I see the boys of summer in their ruin lay the gold tithings barren…”