Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tranquility Base... Roger Has Landed

Roger Federer may not be the first man to step onto the surface of the tennis landscape, but the footprints he'll leave might be the longest-lasting.

Seriously, what WILL the ATP record book look like after Federer is through with it? He has the chance to put career marks so far out of reach that the fanciful stories told about him to future generations will sound like the myths of the Greek Gods.

"Timmy, there was once a man who could hold up the heavens with his racket... and stack together the building blocks of life with his free hand."

Sunday's Australian Open Men's final was just another inevitable step further into history for Roger the Stupendous. Facing off against Fernando Gonzalez, the eighth different player he's met in his eleven career slam finals, was thought to potentially be a challenge for the generation's most well-tuned tennis machine.

It was, too. For about nine games.

Gonzo tried to stay with Federer and, for a while, when the world #1 was serving at under 50% and had more errors than winners on his match ledger, he did. He broke Federer to take a 5-4 lead in the 1st set, and held two set points on his own serve at 40-15. Then Federer used a firm wrist to swat away a shot at the net, and Gonzalez netted a makeable forehand down the line.

Deuce... and Gonzalez's fate was sealed.

Federer passed Gonzalez at the net to break, won nine of ten points after the netted forehand, and began to round his game into stellar form. The Swiss Mister failed to convert four set points on the Chilean's serve at 6-5 in a seven-deuce game that ended with Gonzalez converting on his own fifth game point. But Gonzalez had already let his opportuntiy pass him by.

Federer won the tie-break 7-2, then proceeded to run his opponent to the edges of the court (and beyond) over the next two sets, wearing him down until the only question remaining was whether or not the errant moth that had landed on Rod Laver Arena's court would suffer as public a demise as the helpful man from Chile who'd stopped play in order to remove his insect friend from the court.

(For the record, after nearly being stepped on by a ballkid, the moth was carried off to what was likely a more private end.)

After having seen his serve broken in the opening set to give Gonzalez a chance to serve for the set, Federer proceeded to win 49 of his remaining 53 service points in the match. After his 7-6/6-4/6-4 win, Federer's streak of sets won in Melbourne stood at 24 going back to last year (with the final 21 making him the first man to claim a slam without dropping a set since Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros in 1980...some fourteen months before Federer's birth).

Not that Federer needs any more numbers to back up his dominance, but here are a few more: he's the first man to win three different slams at least three times, he'll break Jimmy Connors' mark of 160 consecutive weeks at #1 by the end of February (and is just two and a half years -- a blink in Federer time -- from Pete Sampras' all-time mark of 286 weeks in the top spot), has won six of the last seven slams (plus 8/10, 9/13 and 10/15 to be precise) and is riding a 36-match winning streak that is the longest of his career.

Yes, he's better now than he's EVER been before. And that's saying something. Look out, Paris. Here he comes. Rafa, that means you, too.

Surely, the upcoming clay season's subplot of Federer's quest is a juicy one. Only winning Roland Garros (defeating Nadal there in the final... and, if there's any justice, the Spaniard will still be looking to continue his record clay winning streak when/if they meet) is left to eliminate from Federer's list of "things to prove" before he can simply worry himself (is he capable of "worry?") with the ghosts of tennis past, present and future.

Connors. Sampras. Borg. Laver. They're all in his sights now. Sampras and Andre Agassi have talked of Federer winning 18 slams in his career (jokingly referencing that he, along with his friend Tiger Woods, is going after Jack Nicklaus' golf major record of 18), but maybe it's Steffi Graf (22) and Margaret Court (24) whose slam records are REALLY in jeopardy, expanding this chase not only across sports boundaries, but gender ones as well. Federer stands at 10 (Tiger has 12). Let the race begin.

A win in Paris will make Federer as odds-on favorite as there's ever been in the history of sport to claim the men's game's first Grand Slam since 1969. Who'd think he's lose at SW19 or Flushing Meadows with the Australian and French titles in his pocket? No one. That would Federer's slam total at 13, just one behind Sampras' 14... and Roger will be only 26.

Melbourne was always meant to be the first step for (hardly) a mere man, but one giant leap toward "Roger Slam." Not only did Federer not disappoint Down Under... he amazed.

Did we expect anything less?

14...Pete Sampras
12...Roy Emerson
11...Bjorn Borg
11...Rod Laver
10...Bill Tilden

[won all 4 slams in a season]
1938...Don Budge
1962...Rod Laver
1969...Rod Laver

286...Pete Sampras
270...Ivan Lendl
268...Jimmy Connors
170...John McEnroe

160...Jimmy Connors
157...Ivan Lendl
102...Pete Sampras

2003 Wimbledon - Mark Philippoussis
2004 Australian - Marat Safin
2004 Wimbledon - Andy Roddick
2004 U.S. - Lleyton Hewitt
2005 Wimbledon - Andy Roddick
2005 U.S. - Andre Agassi
2006 Australian - Marcos Baghdatis
2006 Wimbledon - Rafael Nadal
2006 U.S. - Andy Roddick
2007 Australian - Fernando Gonzalez
==Slam Final Loss==
2006 Roland Garros - Rafael Nadal

[Open Era]
11...Woodbridge/Woodforde (1992-00)
5....BRYAN/BRYAN (2003-07)
5....Eltingh/Haarhuis (1994-98)

MEN'S SINGLES: (1)Roger Federer d. (10)Fernando Gonzalez 7-6/6-4/6-4
WOMEN'S SINGLES: Serena Williams d. (1)Maria Sharapova 6-1/6-2
MEN'S DOUBLES: (1)Bryan/Bryan d. (2)Bjorkman/Mirnyi 7-5/7-5
WOMEN'S DOUBLES: (3)Black/Huber d. Chan/Chuang 6-4/6-7/6-1
MIXED DOUBLES: Likhovtseva/Nestor d. Azarenka/Mirnyi 6-4/6-4
BOYS SINGLES: Brydan Klein d. (2)Jonathan Eysseric 6-2/4-6/6-1
GIRLS SINGLES: (1)Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. (16)Madison Brengle 7-6/7-6
BOYS DOUBLES: Dyce/Heliovaara d. (8)Donald/Roy 6-2/6-7/6-3
GIRLS DOUBLES: Rodina/Rodionova d. (1)Cohen/U.Radwanska 2-6/6-3/6-1

All for now.


TOMORROW: Dorothy Tour Awards


Blogger Zidane said...

By the way, Roger the magnificient won the Australian Open against Safin in 2004, not 2002...

Mon Jan 29, 01:29:00 AM EST  

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