I am what you might call a casual tennis fan.
I like to play the game, although my only real triumph was a three-set thriller against former Minot Daily News sports writer Chris Aarhus on the hard courts of Hammond Park. Not exactly a world-class event.
The majors are always fun to watch and I will pay attention to the Davis Cup and the Olympics, but probably more because of the United States vs. the World concept than to follow specific players.
Yet, here I was, glued to the television for the better part of the late morning and early afternoon on Sunday watching the men's finals on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
American Andy Roddick and the best player in the history of the sport Roger Federer, from Switzerland, battled it out in an epic final, worthy of every Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe or Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras match I have ever watched.
The match was back and forth until the bitter end when Federer finally broke Roddick's serve, the only time he did in the final, to win 16-14 in the fifth set. The match featured 38 games won for Federer and 39 games won for Roddick and no real breathing room
for nearly four hours. While many consider last year's final between Federer and Rafael Nadal to be the best match in recent history, this has to top it.
On one side there is Federer, now alone at the top with 15 majors. In the Nike commercial the conveniently followed the match, sports royalty like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, who just one the women's title on Saturday, McEnroe and even Sampras praised Federer for the achievement. Only Woods had the opportunity to joke with Federer about 15 titles being "pretty good" (Woods has 14 major victories in golf).
That was the obvious reason why Sunday's match was historic.
But I took away something else.
The resurgence of Roddick was remarkable. This was a guy who didn't look like he belonged on the court with Federer in either of his previous losses in the finals at Wimbledon.
But this year is different. This is a different Andy Roddick.
He was different not only in the final Sunday, but throughout the tournament. He withstood five sets with Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals and then upset an entire country - heck, an empire - when he toppled British hopeful Andy Murray in the semis. Roddick, while ranked sixth coming in, really wasn't on too many tennis radars coming in.
But he has changed his game.
To me, that is the lesson learned from the tournament. Here is a guy who has won a major, is one of the top tennis players in the world, is by all accounts a very rich man, but knew his game needed changing.
So what does he do? He swallows his pride and changes it.
Once perceived as a booming serve with a great forehand, Roddick has added a crafty backhand, a new leaner body to run down shots and probably most important, a newfound court sense. Sure, the big serve is still there, but there is a savvy, almost grown-up demeanor to his once boyish game.
I can remember seeing him play Agassi at the Englestad Open exhibition match in Grand Forks thinking that the longer the point, the more Agassi is likely to win. Roddick was all power and no finesse, Agassi just the opposite. Now, I am not so sure.
On Sunday - and throughout his last three matches - Roddick would set up shots. Before, it always seemed like you could dupe him into being out of position. How he is the dupee, not the duper (OK, they aren't words, but they should be).
What was even more impressive is how Roddick was after the match. It truly affected him not to win. Sometimes it seems professional athletes don't have the fire they had when they started out. Since money is no longer an object, they go through the motions. Not true in Sunday's final.
If tennis can continue to have finals like this, with three, four or five great story lines, it might get back to the glory days of McEnroe, Borg and Jimmy Connors.
It might even make the casual fan and avid one.
(Michael Linnell is the sports editor for The Minot Daily News. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com)