Andy Roddick will crack his angry serve toward Roger Federer on Monday during the BNP Paribas Showdown with neither prestige, pride nor prize money on the line. Not as they have been before, when Federer has taken all three from Roddick - over and over again.
The headliners of the fifth annual hardcourt exhibition at Madison Square Garden are asymmetric rivals; a quarter of Federer's 16 major championships were built on victories against Roddick in Grand Slam finals.
That makes the rivalry between the frustrated Texan and the Swiss (who leads 21-2 overall) as fateful as it is one-sided. Had their matches been less frequent or less significant, Roddick, 29, might own more than his single major title; Federer, 30, might not have eclipsed Pete Sampras' record of 14 Slams.
"It's a really one-sided rivalry in terms of head-to-head," Federer said during a conference call last week. "But ... when I'm playing him, I don't feel I have that winning record against him for some reason - just because he competes so well."
And yet Federer, with talent as smooth and tactics as deadly as quicksand, consistently forces Roddick into a desperate and fruitless effort to overcome the limits of his own tennis ability.
Recently, injuries have sent Roddick tumbling to No. 30 in the world - a rank he hasn't seen since 2001, when he first played Federer. Roddick and the No. 3-ranked Federer may never play another second-week Grand Slam match again.
But Roddick's perspective makes him immune to laments. As he is fond of saying: "My worst day is a lot of people's dream."
Follow Sports Editor Max J. Dickstein on Twitter: @amNYsports