ROGER FEDERER ... simply irresistible.-AP

Roddick collided with that Federer fellow, who makes everyone facing him want to cry, and fell, writes ROHIT BRIJNATH.

It was enough to make anyone weep. Roger Federer across the net. And Tiger Woods lounging in his box. As ganging up goes, this was a new low. Give Andy Roddick credit for stepping forward, literally and figuratively, challenging Federer, confronting him, by moving ahead to the net, getting in his face.

No question, for a while on Sunday, the renewed American appeared able enough to defeat any man.

Except the Great One.

Roddick at the Open smacked backhand winners down the line! He attacked! He sliced! He curled in off-balance passing shots! Some of this stuff other advisers might have suggested to him, but when coach Connors says it you tend to listen.

Connors, looking on as Roddick took the second set and scrapped vigorously in the third, ran his fingers through his hair in nervous disbelief. Federer looked like he was about to yawn. Earlier in the tournament Roddick had said of the Frosty Fed, "he kind of ho-hums his way through break points." James Blake, asked after their pulsating encounter if he had worried the Fed, says, "Did his heart rate ever go up above about 60?"

Yeah, sure, Roddick's a new player. But the Fed, inscrutable, impassive, unmoved, is an old master. He out-aced (17 to Roddick's 7), out-winnered (52 to 26) and then outclassed the American.

Federer always cries, as if after a fortnight of immaculate control he can finally pull the plug and release his emotions. Not this time. Maybe he knew he had only won the Open, but Agassi owned it.

As farewells go, it was typically Agassi, somewhat choreographed, somewhat theatrical, more than somewhat moving. Pete Sampras arrived at the 2002 Open, his final Slam, without promise of retirement and left with no guarantee of returning, instead he grabbed the title and was gone, a dry-eyed triumphant departure.

Agassi's prior announcement that this was the end ensured nostalgia, appreciation, a one-eyed crowd excused every discourtesy, ovations, astonishment as he gritted out two wins, and then a tearful, defeated exit. Sometimes, the way men exit their arenas tells us a little about them. Sampras grabbed you by the collar, Agassi the heart. Some days you wondered, all that raining at this Open, was it the heavens howling? Why not, everyone else was bawling. Even Serena Williams, watching Agassi on TV.

As she put it: "At one point I had to calm down and say, `Wait a minute, I'm crying harder than Andre here.' I was like, OK, pull myself together and realise that I wasn't retiring; it was him. He's a great, great guy."

In a tearful tournament, Sharapova stood out, for Manicured Maria ain't no blubberer, more a grim gladiator in Gucci, whose smile doesn't always reach her eyes. Talk of substance finally meeting style is nonsense, for she always possessed both, but occasional demonstrations of the former are useful.

Sure she covers the court like a Bolshoi Ballet reject, and her game has three gears (hit hard, harder, hardest), but she smacked Amelie Mauresmo for the first time ever and then overturned a losing streak to wallop Henin-Hardenne in a dud final.

So her father in the stands held up a banana and she ate one, and then a water bottle and she drank some, and her hitting partner Michael Joyce did the same, courtside coaching at its most unsubtle. But hey, when you're beautiful (and then you win), you're evidently permitted to break the rules.

No one likes losing but Haunting Henin, with a slightly amputated service action, has a little in common with the Russian. Both chew on nails (the iron variety) at changeovers and probably drink brake fluid. When an opponent's in trouble, or falls, you can see their marble faces sneer "boo-hoo".

Elsewhere you wanted to weep for Marat Safin because his career continues to be a crying shame. The Russian's the flakiest fellow tennis has seen, and there was a wistfulness to him, when he, a former champion who upended Nalbandian this year then fell to Tommy Haas, said: "It's just that every time I've been playing well, then I was getting injured and I had to start all over again. I really am tired a little bit of making comebacks."

Safin is part of a Russian renewal (this time driven by men), but no longer its leader. Instead it is the hair-losing, meal-needing Nikolay Davydenko, who plays with the fervour of a young revolutionary, chasing balls as if he might a cause.

The Energiser-battery-powered Davydenko's ability to adapt is evident in semi-final placings at the French and Australian Opens, a feat he repeated at this Open. Whereupon he ran into a fellow called Federer. The other Russian semi-finalist, Mikael Youzhny had earlier run into Rafael Nadal, and, gulp, ran over him.

Youzhny is owner of a flat game Nadal might like to acquire (and add to his top-spin collection), and an idea everyone is going to steal. He attacked the Spaniard's strength, his forehand, and it worked.

Of course Nadal hit too short (his failing on hardcourt) and for a man who does stirring impersonations of a machine he was oddly unreliable. The last time he made 38 unforced errors (against Youzhny) in a match was possibly when he was seven years old and his only racket had broken a string.

Nadal has never been strong on sob stories, and despite his sartorial sense is every inch a gentleman. Excuses he does not care of, instead he hailed his Russian conqueror and dismissed talk of his injured ankle with "It's okay. Is stupid now say anything about that, no? No, it's okay. I never I don't want to speak never when I lose. If I win, I say anything about my ankle. But if I lose, that's as I lose, I lose. No ankle, no pain, nothing. I lose."

For a very young, very rich, very successful, very famous sportsman, Nadal is pleasantly familiar with grace. So is James Blake, whose exchanges of artillery fire with Federer threatened to bring the house down.

Blake, whose low-margin-of-error, full-volume hitting makes him erratic but irresistible, competed fiercely for three of four sets, both men producing 99 winners between them, some which still glitter in the memory,

But there was a moment, after the first set tie-breaker (which Blake had chances to win, didn't, and then lost the second set 6-0) where the American looked pale, shaken, as if after playing such fine, inspired, bold tennis the most awful of realisations had struck him, that he was simply not good enough to beat this man.

As looks go, perhaps the most poignant moment of the Open not belonging to Agassi was etched on Andy Roddick's face immediately after his powerful, persuasive quarter-final win over Lleyton Hewitt.

For a second, before it abruptly composed itself, Roddick's face crumpled with emotion, as if he was visibly moved by the confirmation that, dammit, yes, after a distressing season of losses, he had re-found his talent. He could play this game.

Then he collided with that Federer fellow, who makes everyone facing him want to cry.