ONE by one, the former Wimbledon champions left Centre Court and crossed the elevated walkway that leads to the players' area, with its ample lawn and circular tables.


ONE by one, the former Wimbledon champions left Centre Court and crossed the elevated walkway that leads to the players' area, with its ample lawn and circular tables. One by one, they were asked to put Roger Federer's third consecutive Wimbledon title in perspective.

"For me, he's the most complete player I've seen," said Richard Krajicek, the Dutchman who won here in 1996. "He reminds me of Pete Sampras, with a better backhand. With Sampras, I always had the feeling his backhand could fall apart."

Boris Becker, who won here in 1985, 1986 and 1989, said: "He doesn't really have a weakness. He's comfortable from the back of the court, he's comfortable at the net. And I think the other players have to learn from that."

John McEnroe, who won here in 1981, 1983 and 1984, later said on television: "People think I'm kidding or that I'm just talking him up when I say he's the greatest talent of all time, but I believe that."

In the end, however, it was best to leave the floor to Andy Roddick, the second-seeded player here who, because of Federer, has yet to win Wimbledon and did not come close in a 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4 defeat, which required much less of the crowd's time and emotional energy than the classic best-of-three-set women's final.

"You just have sit back and say, `Too good,' sometimes," Roddick said, before turning his thoughts to the future. "Hope he gets bored or something. I don't know."

Roddick's lighthearted responses after this latest disappointment were not the sort of postmatch reaction some of his less genial predecessors, including McEnroe, might have had. But it was one more sign of the depth of Federer's dominance on the game's original surface.

If Roddick had lost, 9-7, in the fifth set, or even by 7-6 in the fourth, he might have walked in with his chin down and his wit under wraps. But it is difficult to kick oneself when the goal seems so far out of reach.

Last year in the final, Roddick went out just about as aggressively from the start, and he ended up winning the first set and leading again in the third before losing in four generally competitive sets. But this year, all his sound and fury ended up signifying nothing more than a 1-hour, 41-minute rout.

"It's hard for him, you know," Federer said. "This is my best match maybe that I've ever played."

Federer, the No. 1 seed, had an extra day of rest for this rematch of last year's final; Roddick's semifinal victory over Thomas Johansson stretched over two days because of a rain delay. But Roddick appeared to have no shortage of energy in the final. "There wasn't one point where I was tired," he said. "I was tired of him, but I wasn't tired."

What he lacked was the antidote to Federer's wide variety of poisons. Though he had beaten Federer just once in their nine previous matches, Roddick had not played him this season.

"He played head and shoulders above what he played last year," said Roddick, who also lost to Federer in the semifinals here in 2003. "I probably played a more complete match this year. Last year, I played well in spurts, but I was really hit and miss. I feel like if I played the way I did this year versus the way I was playing last year, I'd probably win."

Unfortunately, he has to keep playing Federer, who gave him no true window of opportunity but did offer one opening when Roddick broke him in the third game of the second set and then held his own serve to take a 3-1 lead.

But Federer soon resumed firing timely serves, returns and spectacular passing shots to sweep the next three games. Roddick saved two set points on his serve in the 10th game to help earn a tie-breaker.

On grass, Roddick wins a lot more than he loses, but he did not pose a serious threat in this match. In the tie-breaker, he dropped the first three points, scrambled back to 3-2 and then lost four more in a row. So much for the second set, and after a short rain delay, Federer broke Roddick in the seventh game of the third set with another backhand pass, and then held that advantage to 5-4. He opened with an ace, then came up with an ace on a second serve. A backhand error offered Roddick nothing more than a stay of execution. Federer won the next two points, putting the finishing touch on his fifth major title with a first serve up the middle that Roddick could only lunge for with his backhand and knock into the net. Federer shouted, closed his eyes and clenched his fists. Then he hunched forward and tumbled to the grass, rolling on his back and covering his eyes.

Soon after he had slowly returned to his feet, he was in tears, just as he was when he won here for the first time, in 2003. It has not been quite the triumphal season he might have expected after dominating the sport in 2004. Though he has lost only three times in 2005, two of those losses were in the first Grand Slam tournaments of the year, in the semifinals of the Australian Open to the eventual champion Marat Safin and in the semifinals of the French Open to the eventual champion Rafael Nadal.

When he arrived in London the week before Wimbledon, Federer said that he felt in fine form, but he was hiding the truth. He said he was actually exhausted after going farther at the French Open than before and then fighting through some tough matches to win in Halle, Germany, the following week.

"I called my conditioning trainer and said, `What's this all about? I'm so tired before the tournament.'" Federer said. "He said, `Look, it's normal. It's all coming back at you now that you have a week off. The body needs time to sort of relax.' And I said, `Well I hope this will be over soon, because otherwise the tournament is going to start.' I would start hitting in practice, and I couldn't move anymore. Then in the afternoon, I'd go to the city and walk, and I'd always have to sit down. I was really, really tired. Almost like a feeling I never had before."

But it all ended up feeling quite familiar at Wimbledon. His grass-court victory streak is now at 36, and he has joined Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras as the only men to win three consecutive titles here since World War II.

Past champions pose a challenge to Federer on grass. But for the moment, present company is not giving him much to be concerned about. He lost only one set last year on his way to the title and lost only one this year. Maybe, as Roddick suggested, he could succumb to ennui.

"I won't get bored so quickly," Federer said. "So I'm sorry."

New York Times News Service