The occasion cries out for an encore. Who wouldn't want to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on Centre Court in the Wimbledon final, a reprise of the greatest match ever played?
I'd like to see it as much as anyone, but it won't come down that way. Here are five reasons why Andy Roddick will be facing Andy Murray a week from Sunday:
1. Roddick has become a man. He chides the press for the ever-changing portrayal of his reputation -- upstart, hero, punk, smart-aleck, baseline robot, all-court guy, class act, he's heard it all over the years -- but there are elements of truth to that progression. He's not the same person, or the same player, who won the U.S. Open (his only major title) seven years ago.
Roddick measures his public comments now, instead of just assuming he's the smartest guy in the room. He has worked tirelessly on his game, developing variety, decent volleys and a backhand with verve and authority. Three years ago, Pete Sampras wondered if Roddick was too stubborn to change what had become a monotonous, very beatable style. The response came forth in last year's Wimbledon final, when Roddick took Federer to 16-14 in the fifth, and it was the aftermath of that crushing loss that said the most about Roddick. He realized the implications, that people appreciated the hell out of his effort, and he never stopped grinding. Right now, he looks as sharp and composed as anyone in the tournament.
"It was a privilege to play in that match, I'm very proud of it," Roddick said upon his return to the All England Club. "I'm not going to act like it's a burden now."
2. Murray's frame of mind. Quite the opposite of Roddick, Murray never quite reveals what he's thinking. This is a guy who mixed "droll" with "laconic" in his teenage years and came up with a distinct Scottish blend. Too often, Murray's intense introspection costs him dearly on the court, including a bunch of ridiculous losses this year, but he's a different man just now. Utter confidence has burst forth in his Wimbledon performances, and a sense of ease. The slightest annoyance might torment him in Dubai or Miami, but he doesn't at all mind carrying the flag of British tennis by himself. (Literally; he was the last man or woman standing after just one round, the U.K.'s worst performance in Wimbledon's 133-year history.)
3. Roddick -- at least until he plays Murray -- will be the crowd favorite in every match he plays. He earned the Centre Court patrons' respect in that Federer titanic; they were chanting his name as he awaited the ceremony. They appreciate toughness, a hard-line competitor who never gives up, and that's Roddick all the way.
"Whether it's right or wrong, maybe they appreciate the body of work I've put together at this tournament," he said this week. "You never feel like you're entitled to anything here. They can choose whether to support you or not. The fact that they were vocal about it, and have been since I came back, it's a nice thing."
4. Pomp, with a side of circumstance. Like clockwork, Queen Elizabeth II shows up at Wimbledon every 33 years. She was there for Virginia Wade's epic triumph in 1977, and sure enough, she was on hand Wednesday to watch Murray -- playing his best tennis since he reached the Australian Open final -- dispatch Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets.
The Queen didn't seem terribly engaged by the tennis, to be truthful, but it was a significant episode for Murray, who showed he understood the protocol of bowing and even unleashed a bit of humor. "You never know, I might get nervous beforehand and screw it up," he said the day before. And when asked about the desultory state of British tennis, he didn't offer the expected words of encouragement. Instead: "It's not great, is it?"
5. The big guns look vulnerable. Federer had back-to-back struggles against Alejandro Falla and a qualifier named Ilija Bozoljac, who took him to 7-6 in the fourth. Nadal lost two sets to 151st-ranked Dutchman Robin Haase. Strictly on the form we've seen to date, Roddick and Murray are outplaying the kings. They have earned their passage to Sunday. A lot of cool things have happened at Wimbledon, and that would be a very cool final.
(For those who checked SI.com's predictions before the tournament, that's right, I picked Federer to win and Roddick as the most likely "flameout" on the men's side. Things change, is all I can say. I'll look especially bad when the final turns out to be Soderling-Hewitt.)
As nice as it was to see Serena Williams dispatch the horrid and devious Michelle Larcher de Brito, it was even more satisfying to hear Mary Carillo and Mary Joe Fernandez dwelling on (not just mentioning) the shrieking issue during that first-round match. Carillo wants this nonsense completely out of the game, for good, and she couldn't be more correct.
In the wake of past shriek-fests that irritated opponents, fans and broadcasters, De Brito was "spoken to" by the WTA, as Carillo put it. She no longer accompanies every stroke with a hideous, drawn-out yowl. In fact, she played the first set against Serena in virtual silence. She was just about run off the court, in what seemed like about 10 minutes, so she jacked up the volume in the second set -- for effect. Those are the key words. It's not a deep-seated habit or the sign of physical strain, it's a tactic, designed to unnerve, intimidate or throw off an opponent.
It's essentially a matter of cheating. That's the word Martina Navratilova likes to use, because excessive noise prevents a player from hearing the sound (so crucial) of a ball coming off the racket. Who does De Brito think she's kidding, suddenly playing the horror-film card after a long stretch of normalcy? What, she's going to yell her way out of trouble? And Serena hardly gets off the hook. As always, when an opponent acts up or starts gaining the upper hand, Serena decides she can raise a hellacious racket with the best of them. Really shameful stuff from one of the game's iconic figures.
Carillo took great delight in an ESPN graphic showing that a chainsaw's decibel level isn't as loud as the noises produced by De Brito or Maria Sharapova. "What Michelle does isn't just a crime against the sport," said Carillo, "it's a crime against humanity."
By the way, Carillo feels that Victoria Azarenka is the worst offender of them all: "A vuvuzela with feet."
NOTES: Nice tribute to Roddick in Hardcourt Confidential, Patrick McEnroe's new book: "Wimbledon has two locker rooms: a spacious, well-appointed one for seeded players, and a more bare-bones one for everyone else. Yet, Roddick, a three-time finalist at the event, insists on hanging out in the B locker room, so he can be with buddies like Sam Querrey, the Bryan brothers, Mardy Fish and James Blake. He just feels more comfortable in there." ... Trying to comprehend the notion of playing a 138-game set and losing (to John Isner), Nicolas Mahut gratefully told the Court 18 crowd it was "the greatest match ever." Not exactly. Great tennis requires conflict, stirring shifts of momentum, or at the very least, contrast. There's nothing technically great about watching two guys unable to break serve for three days. But it was the most surreal, incomprehensible, history-bending match of them all -- by far. You can argue McEnroe-Borg against Federer-Nadal, maybe throw in a few others, on the subject of great matches. For an abject departure from life as we know it, Isner-Mahut crushes all competition ... "This is the greatest advertisement for our sport," John McEnroe said on BBC television, and let's hope he was talking about tennis players as legitimate, hard-core athletes. If you told spectators an upcoming match would last 11 hours, not all of them would be thrilled ... Can somebody get Isner a decent shirt? With a collar, perhaps? He's really coming up in the world. Time to ditch the sunrise-at-the-fraternity look ... If you wanted to see video of that bizarre exchange between James Blake (on court) and Pam Shriver (in the ESPN booth) during his first-round match, you were probably out of luck. Somebody got to the YouTube people. It was available for viewing very briefly, but now shows a blank due to "use violation," whatever that means.
The last words, from London:
Brian Viner, The Independent: "As for Her Majesty's outfit, it was a charming blue affair topped by a rather large, wonky hat. It may be, of course, that she knew the effort of keeping it aloft would keep her awake."
Mark Hodgkinson, Telegraph: "Michael Llodra's decision to use Amelie Mauresmo as a psychological mentor is akin to hiring John McEnroe as an etiquette coach, or asking Jimmy Connors to teach you about Zen. Perhaps it helps that Mauresmo and Llodra share an interest in wine."