Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

Apparently, the reports of the death of Roger Federer's aura were greatly exaggerated.

Just ask Andy Murray.

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Federer came into this U.S. Open with one final chance in 2008 to turn back the clock to 2005-07, reclaim the form that made him the world's best player for four years running and saw him nipping at the heels of the all-time greats in the record books while (conservatively) being placed shoulder-to-shoulder with Rod Laver in the mythical "Greatest of All Time" power pyramid. He had some rough going at times in New York, being forced to five sets by Igor Andreev and even being tested by qualifier Gilles Muller. But he moved past both with a noticeable upping of his on-court emotion quotient making up for the occasional lapses in his game.

Along the way, the recently-deposed King Roger became the crowd favorite. So much so, he even said he felt like he was a "real New Yorker." In Monday's rain-delayed final against Murray, Federer put out of its misery a season of "almosts" and "near-misses" with a thorough dissection of the overmatched and tired Scot, winning 6-2/7-5/6-2 to claim his fifth straight U.S. Open crown, and thirteenth career slam singles title, one behind Pete Sampras' all-time men's record.

Wilted by a third straight day of play (Federer last played in the early afternoon on Saturday), Murray put up little resistance once the fates turned against him, save for a brief uprising after falling down 5-0 in the 3rd when he broke Federer's serve and threatened to force the four-time defending champ to attempt to serve out the match a second time. On the final point of the match, Murray's scrambles forced Federer to hit two overhead smashes before finally crumbling to the court in celebration... or was it relief that he had avoided doing the unthinkable -- going an entire season without winning a slam title?

Finally, Federer's name is once again tied to history. His fifth straight Open title is second to only Bill Tilden's six in the 1920's, and he's the first man to ever win two different slams (also Wimbledon) five consecutive times. In a minor footnote, his five straight finals in New York have come against five different men, none of which have been named Nadal (Tilden faced just two different men in the final during his run).

Murray could have become the first man from Great Britain since Fred Perry in 1936 (and the first Brit since Virginia Wade in 1978) to claim a slam singles championship. The new world #4 wasn't able to do it, but off-court work should only continue to pay dividends in future seasons. It's pretty clear, that he's got quite a good chance to succeed on the big stages where Tim Henman always managed to ultimately fail.

Just as Federer's mastery in this match produced a severe case of deja vu, so did Murray's comments following the match. Calling Federer "the best player who ever lived," one could almost hear the little voice in the Swiss Mister's head reassuring him, "See, Roger... I TOLD you that the days of your opponents saying such things weren't over."

With an Olympic Gold and continued Open domination serving as encouraging signs as 2008 hits its home stretch, maybe we WILL find out in 2009 that this season's "troubles" were largely a result of the lingering effects of Federer's battle with mono at the start of this season. Of course, only Federer could have a season with a slam title, two slam runners-up and one SF result, a co-starring role in "The Greatest Match Ever Played" and the #2 ranking in the world be considered a "disappointment."

If this is the beginning of "The Comeback," next season is going to be one for the ages.

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

11..Bob Bryan
10...Mahesh Bhupathi
10...Leander Paes
9...Jonas Bjorkman
8...Mike Bryan

2003 Andy Roddick d. Juan Carlos Ferrero
2004 Roger Federer d. Lleyton Hewitt
2005 Roger Federer d. Andre Agassi
2006 Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick
2007 Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic
2008 Roger Federer d. Andy Murray

5...Bjorn Borg, Wimbledon 1976-80
5...Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2003-07
4...Bjorn Borg, Roland Garros 1978-81
4...Pete Sampras, Wimbledon 1997-00
4...Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2005-08

[since 1912]
6...Bill Tilden, 1920-25
5...ROGER FEDERER, 2004-08
3...Ivan Lendl, 1985-87
3...John McEnroe, 1979-81

All for now.

THIS WEEK: Odds & Ends Between New York & Doha, Ms. Backspin Update and 3Q Awards


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