LONDON (Reuters) - Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in one of the most extraordinary finals ever seen at Wimbledon or any other grand slam on Sunday, holding off a brave challenge from the American to win 5-7 7-6 7-6 3-6 16-14.
The final set alone of an unforgettable Center Court duel lasted 95 minutes before a Roddick, who took 107 Federer winners on the chin, mishit a weary forehand out of court to give the Swiss great his sixth Wimbledon title and the record of 15 grand slam titles he so cherished.
Roddick said before that he hoped to stall Federer on 14 and he will look back at blowing a 6-2 lead in the second set tiebreak when Federer was on the ropes. His failed backhand volley on his fourth set point will haunt him for a while.
Fittingly, Pete Sampras, the only other man to have previously won 14 slams, was sat in the Royal Box alongside five-times winner Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, as a match of unrelenting drama stretched into a fifth hour.
“Andy I want to say you’re going to come back and win one, I‘m sure,” Federer said on court as a shattered Roddick contemplated his third defeat to Federer in a Wimbledon final.
“Today I was on the lucky side. It feels funny to have the trophy back. It feels great. It was a crazy match, my head’s still spinning. It’s an unbelievable moment in my career.”
At the end, Center Court looked like a lonely place for Roddick who still managed to congratulate the man he has now lost to in four of his five grand slam finals.
“I want to say congratulations to Roger, well done, he deserves it. I tried -- sorry Pete, I tried to hold him off,” an emotional Roddick said.
Few imagined that Federer’s seventh consecutive Wimbledon final could come anywhere near close to emulating last year’s epic when he lost his grasscourt crown to Rafael Nadal -- a five-set thriller that ended in near darkness.
That prediction proved way off beam though as Roddick, who had lost 18 of his previous 20 clashes with Federer including in the 2004 and 2005 finals here, shrugged off any inferiority complex to play an heroic role in the longest ever Wimbledon final in terms of the 77 games played.
After his stunning display against world number three Andy Murray in Friday’s semi-final to break British hearts, Roddick came agonizingly close to putting a spanner in the Federer machine that had purred all the way to the final.
Right from the start it was clear Roddick was up for the fight with the accuracy of his sledgehammer serve and his aggressive hitting from the baseline keeping Federer subdued.
Roddick saved four break points at 5-5 in the first set then carved out a set point in the next game that he won with a raking double-handed backhand up the line.
Serving around 80 percent of his first serves in, Roddick maintained the pressure in the second set as Federer, for once, struggled to find his flashes of genius.
When Roddick marched off for a toilet break having had the second set ripped from his grasp it seemed that his challenge might fizzle out. Not a bit of it.
Federer, who served a career record 50 aces in the match, was rock solid in the third set but still had precious little joy on the Roddick serve -- eventually taking the inevitable tiebreak 7-5.
Roddick, playing one of the matches of his life, refused to buckle and broke the Federer serve in the fourth game of the fourth set for the second time -- again his often maligned backhand doing the damage with a fizzing pass.
There was a moment of alarm for Roddick when he fell awkwardly in the baseline dust but he served out confidently to set up a nerve-racking decider.
Ten times Roddick had to serve to stay alive. Ten times his trusty weapon did not let him down. Federer dug himself out of a hole at 8-8 when he trailed 15-40, blasting down a great first serve and then whipping a drive volley.
Finally, the pressure told on Roddick. At 14-15 Federer finally eked out a match point, the first of the contest. As the ball shot off Roddick’s frame, Federer soared into the air and punched his fists, knowing victory was finally his.
Editing by Miles Evans