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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Andy Roddick

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.Now this was The Greatest Match Ever: All England Club, Gentlemen's final, King Federer vs. The Everyman with the 145 mph serve. After the afternoon shadows had overtaken Centre Court, after the longest fifth set in the history of the tournament was over and the breathtaking four-hour, 16-minute epic had come to an end, Roger Federer put on the white jacket embroidered with the gold 15 like an emperor slipping on his cloak. Federer had won more Grand Slam singles titles than any player in history. Yet, the better story on that July afternoon belonged to the loser, because there had never been a loser that more deserved to win than Andy Roddick at Wimbledon.

There's nothing like a comeback, and no comeback in 2009 was more thrilling and more inspiring to watch than the rebirth of Roddick at the All England Club. In the semifinals, the player once armed only with a big forehand and a huge serve steamrolled Andy Murray on the Scot's turf with extended rallies and Edbergian volleys. And in the final, there was no way around it: Roddick outplayed Federer --- one successful backhand volley (he heartbreakingly shanked one wide on set point during a second set tiebreak), and the ending would have been different. Instead Roddick simply turned in the greatest performance ever by a losing finalist. He held his serve on 37 straight games until, at 14-15 in the fifth set's 95th minute, with the shadows creeping in, he could hold no more.

Tennis fans know his story well: Led by a new coach, Larry Stefanki, Roddick rededicated himself this year, dropped 15 pounds, improved his court coverage and retooled his backhand. His career as a Top 10 player on life support, he became relevant again with ridiculous hard work. But his other transformation was even more admirable: not so long ago Roddick was a punk --- brash and arrogant and rude on the court, the bad boy poster-child for the New Balls, Please generation. But marriage mellowed him; failure humbled him. The brat had become the gracious sportsman, and never was that more apparent than in the moments after the final when Roddick gave his moving speech in defeat. When asked by a BBC broadcaster if tennis can be a cruel sport, he looked up in the stands and answered, "No, I'm one of the lucky ones who has all you guys cheering for me." The Wimbledon crowd chanted his name. It was the coolest sports moment of the year.

Later that night after The Greatest Match Ever, John McEnroe told Roddick that he had won over more fans in defeat than he ever did in victory. He was right.

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