Sportswriters ran out of adjectives to describe Roger Federer's brilliance on Wimbledon's Center Court on Sunday. TV commentators ran out of superlatives. And Andy Roddick, Federer's overwhelmed opponent, ran out of ideas for countering the peerless Swiss in a one-sided championship that turned into a runaway coronation.
Playing what he called one of the best matches of his career, Federer sailed to his third consecutive Wimbledon title by dismissing Roddick, the tournament's second seed, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4. Federer was ruthless in his efficiency, shaving one set and 50 minutes off his four-set victory over Roddick in last year's final.
Roddick had labored hard these last 12 months to prepare for the rematch and returned to Center Court more fit, more aggressive and more capable at the net. But after just a few whacks at the ball, Roddick was confronted with the unfathomable reality that Federer had raised his game as well, adding more shots to an already kaleidoscopic array.
After breaking Roddick's vaunted serve twice to win the first set in 22 minutes, Federer breezed on -- diverted only nominally by the tie-breaker in the second set -- to close the match in 1 hour 41 minutes. Along the way he committed just 12 unforced errors and delivered 49 winners. The victory was so convincing that the only issue worth debating afterward was Federer's place in the history of tennis -- an absurd notion, upon reflection, given that he is only 23.
"You're not stretching far to make that argument," Roddick conceded, asked if Federer could be the best player ever. "Time will tell. But I don't know many people in history who would beat him."
Federer joined the elite company of plausible suspects Sunday, moving alongside Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras as the only men to win three consecutive Wimbledon singles titles in the Open era.
Federer has now won 36 consecutive matches on grass, which next year will put him within reach of Borg's record 41. He also extended his streak of victories in finals to 21, which dates from 2003.
The only thing Federer doesn't do well, it seems, is false modesty.
He dropped to his knees and collapsed on the patchy grass court the moment he clinched the victory. The thrill of winning his third title -- the effort it represented and the pressure it released -- moved him to tears, as it had following his first and second Wimbledon triumphs.
But after collecting his emotions, Federer saw no virtue in skirting the obvious.
"I amaze myself how incredible actually I use my talent," Federer said, asked to explain his sustained excellence. "For those who follow me since I'm a youngster, they knew I had potential. But I don't think anybody would have ever thought it would be this extreme -- basically dominating the game, winning three Wimbledons."
Roddick, 22, was left without an obvious next step. He had devised a gameplan for beating Federer. He had followed it to the best of his ability. And it wasn't enough.
"It's tough knowing that you're a better player than you were two years ago and not having a lot to show for it," Roddick said. "You kind of have to tip your hat. Every once in awhile -- it's tough for us athletes, but -- you have to say, 'You were better than I was today.' "
Federer came out blazing, mindful of Roddick's overpowering start against him last year, and closed the first set on a miss-hit backhand return that plopped, providentially, on the line.
Roddick managed to break Federer's serve and held for a 3-1 lead in the second set. But Federer broke back two games later. Serving at 15-30, Roddick charged to the net for what looked like a winning backhand volley. But before the ball bounced a second time, Federer raced from the back corner in two strides to scoop it up for a forehand winner down the line. Roddick replied with a 120-mph serve that Federer tapped back with a Ping-Pong player's finesse to even the score at three games each.
Federer exacted his damage without a sound, silently tormenting the American with blistering passing shots, deftly disguised drop shots, artfully lofted lobs and perfectly placed aces (11 in all, to Roddick's 7). Roddick could only groan in response -- not out of fatigue, but out of frustration.
"There wasn't one point where I was tired," said Roddick, who spent 21/2 hours on court the previous day completing a rain-delayed semifinal. "I was tired of him. But I wasn't tired. It wasn't a war of physical attrition or anything like that. He was just better."
Roddick tried varying his pace against Federer. He attacked Federer's backhand, which, at one time, was a weakness. He tried attacking the net, winning the point on just 18 of his 42 forays (43 percent). But in general, the nuances of Roddick's game are limited to hitting the ball hard, harder or hardest. And Federer had an answer, it seemed, for every variation.
Sunday's result leaves Roddick's record against the Swiss at 1-9. It also leaves him with one Grand Slam title, earned at the 2003 U.S. Open, and Federer with five. But if he never evens the score or manages to play Federer close enough to make theirs a true rivalry, Roddick insists he hasn't lost his appetite for the fight.
"I want another crack at him till my record is 1-31," Roddick said. "For me, if you can't compete against the best and beat the best, then you don't deserve to win these titles. And that's what I'm faced with right now."