Tuesday, September 9

One for the Thumb

Roger Federer had a historic win yesterday giving him five straight U.S. Open titles and bringing him one behind Pete Sampras for all time Grand Slam titles. The outcome was never in doubt as Roger pushed Andy Murray out of the way in three straight sets. Murray looked like a deer in headlights in the first set and then a deer that was frustrated to have been startled by headlights in the second and third. In his post-match speech Federer sounded relieved to again be at the pinnacle of the men’s game but also was insistent on the positive direction the men’s game is headed in.

The Greatness

Roger Federer has now by sheer numbers alone placed himself just under Pete Sampras as the best men’s singles player of all time. The past year has been trying for Federer, losing out in the Australian Open, and then coming down with mono in the spring. Clearly the illness took away from his performance at the French, where he still was able to reach the finals only to be swept aside by Rafael Nadal. This was not an uncommon result for Federer at Roland-Garros, where he has never won. It is the one blemish on his great record, as it was for Sampras. The one card Andre Agassi holds over Sampras and now Federer is that he was able to win the French and complete the career slam. Heading into Wimbledon it was clear that Federer was out to redeem his loss to Nadal. Thankfully they met in the final but Nadal edged Roger in one of the greatest matches ever. At that point people began to ask; what is wrong with Roger? Too many matches? Getting old? (he’s only 27..) Something wrong physically? (the mono?), is he suffering from not having a consistent coach? (he usually trains on his own). In the Olympics Federer bowed out in singles early even though he captured a doubles gold medal. In the U.S. Open, Federer has some struggles earlier, and he let his frustration show on the court. It was rare to see Federer get so bothered on the court by the officials, his play, or certain unlucky bounces. Not until his semi-final match against Novac Djokovic did Federer begin to look his old, dominating self. He found his game, his groove, his stroke.

The finals seemed a mere formality and when it was over and Federer did his trademark Barrel Roll flop onto center court, he seemed right again. In this Roger deserves tremendous credit, in the same way that Tiger Woods did for coming back from his stretch where he wasn’t winning majors. It is an accomplishment to reach to level of excellence in sport, but a remarkable feat is to recapture that greatness after losing hold of it. It is no wonder that Federer and Woods have struck a friendship with each other and appeared in Gilette commercials along side each other and one other random international sports star. Federer now his sights set on two things for next year: finally win the French, and pass Sampras for all time Slam titles.

The Chronicles of Roddick

Andy Roddick is by no means wallowing in sorrow. He has made enough money to be set for life, he holds a Grand Slam title from 2003, and he will soon be lawfully joined to this. That being said, the American with the most promise failed yet again to produce in his home court Grand Slam. Roddick seems to take everything with a grain of salt; his post-match press conferences are actually very entertaining and he is always good for a humorous quote. He produced one of these quips during the tournament in reference to Novak Djokovic. Alluding to his injury situation, Andy jokingly suggested that Novak was quick to call for the trainer. Seeing that he had mentioned anthrax in his statement, it should have been seen as a light-hearted comment but Djokovic saw it as a shot to his intergrity. The 21 year old Serb then beat Roddick with the whole crowd against him and became overcome with emotion after the match and said some comments that quickly turned to New York crowd against him. Roddick and Djokovic met after the match and apparently have made up. Novak wears his emotions on his sleeve and hopefully he will learn to control that as he matures. His tennis, however, is great in its own right. No matter what Roddick threw at him, he returned it right back. Roddick’s serve was powerful, but inconsistent and in what has often been his downfall, he made somepoor match decisions. By the end of the match Roddick looked overmatched. On a critical point in the fourth set tiebreaker at 5-5 Roddick pounded great groundstroke after great groundstroke, but Novak would not let one by him. Roddick ran out of patience and attempted a backhand slice drop shot. It landed feebly into the net. After the next point, the match was over. Roddick has had some bad exits out of the Slams, but has had some great runs ended by the superior play of his counterparts and in many cases it came in the form of Roger Federer. Roddick can compete at the highest levels of tennis, but he is going to have to adapt and strategize his game in order to take another major title.

The State of the Game

The men’s game has been reduced to the four Grand Slams in the fan’s eyes. Only the most avid fans and Europeans follow all the different tour stops during the year. When the tournaments roll around, especially when there are challengers going after Federer, it is a great sports match to watch, and a change of pace from the other popular sports that are on television. John McEnroe and others have contended that players are forced through too many tournaments in the year and it is wearing the stars of the game down and shortening careers. If an attractive secondary tier of tournaments existed to compliment the Slams, they would possibly get more attention. The top four in tennis (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray) provide a solid core of talent for the men’s game but others (especially Americans) need to step up. The other positive about the game is the time efficient and effective replay system in place. The ability for players to quickly challenge a call and see exactly where it lands has been a gigantic leap for fair play and reduction of squabbles over missed calls.

The game has carved its niche into the sports world, but hold is tenuous and only great major tournaments can keep the momentum going. With all the options American fans now have tennis has slipped behind many of the other sports in national attention. Gone are the days of Agassi, Sampras, Connors, and McEnroe. Still there is hope that we can enjoy great matches like the ones we have seen this summer in the coming years and that someone will emerge as the next ambassador to men’s tennis in the United States.

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