Not that it required psychic powers to foretell this outcome.
40 – 0, Destiny
Emotional Weather Report, 26 Jan 2007
The tennis season is well underway, and the first grand slam event of the year is nearly over. Shortly we will know which players are to face each other in the finals. Unless there has been some great upheaval in the last couple of days, or his opponents have suddenly unleashed mutant powers, there is no reason to think that Roger Federer won’t take the Australian Open championship this year. The way he’s taken three of the last four grand slams, five of the last eight, and eight of the last twelve.
The only players who have stood in the way of total annihilation are Rafael Nadal, who’s won the last two French Opens, and Marat Safin, who won at Melbourne in 2005. As of this writing Nadal is still in the draw, having survived a strong challenge from Andy Murray (“Scottish tennis player” used to be an oxymoron; Monty Python even had a sketch about it). My favorite Russian was bounced out in the third round by a resurgent Andy Roddick. Roddick had surprised The Fed at a tournament in Kooyong earlier this month, giving Roddick fans hope that the era of the Federer-Roddick rivalry, awaited since 2003, has finally arrived. True, The Fed was uncharacteristically sluggish and out of it during that match, but maybe Roddick, with the help of his coach Jimmy Connors, has found the chink in the king’s armor. I think it was a confluence of factors: The Fed on an off-day, and Roddick aching for revenge after he was slaughtered in the fourth set of the US Open final.
The sport has always thrived on great rivalries: Borg v. McEnroe, McEnroe v. Lendl, Becker v. Edberg, Graf v. Seles (which had the added drama of an on-court knife attack), Sampras v. Agassi, Hingis v. Williams. Rivals push each other to greater achievement, and it is interesting to note how the retirement of one is often followed by the decline of the other (and not just due to age). The great rivalry of the past year was Federer v. Nadal. Nadal with his Popeye the Sailor Man arms and incredible energy rattled the usually unflappable Federer. Shots that should’ve been unreturnable somehow made their way back across the net, and with enough pace to nullify the Federer backhand. Last year Nadal denied The Fed the honor of matching Rod Laver’s Grand Slam (four slams in one calendar year). However, following his sizzling run at Wimbledon (where he negated the conventional wisdom that clay courters are useless on grass), Nadal faltered and was not much of a factor for the rest of the year.
Your “enemy”, someone said, is the instrument of your destiny, and Roger Federer’s destiny is to be the greatest tennis player in the history of the world. That is not exaggeration or fandom, just a fact. His main competitor for the title, Pete Sampras, has already conceded. So far The Fed has marched towards his destiny without a true arch-rival to push his game. He has no equal; he is so ahead of the field as to be in another galaxy altogether. His forehand is perfection, his backhand is a thing of beauty, the variety and placement of his shots is unparalleled. He can play from the baseline and he can serve-and-volley; his game is a graceful combination of the two. He doesn’t even have to chase the ball because he knows where it’s going the moment it makes contact with the racquet strings. I suspect that like dolphins and bats, he can pinpoint location from the way sound waves bounce. Amazingly, his game is still improving. His tennis computer-brain analyzes mistakes and automatically installs countermeasures in the software. He makes tennis look easy. On-court even his hair looks good.
By default, anyone writing about The Fed becomes a fan. What are you gonna do, complain about his dominance? Then he reminds us that he is, after all, human, by bursting into tears after a victory.
Like all sport the game of tennis is full of ritual and superstition, and by praising The Fed before the final I may be accused of hexing him through vicarious hubris. Fans like to believe that their allegiance has some impact on an idol’s game: by concentrating on the ball they can make it defy the laws of physics, by giving his opponent the evil eye they can cause him to double-fault. So now Federer fans are in a bind. The Fed doesn’t need them to smash opponents. He’s so good, they are reduced to wishing he would need a little help.