Federer, Nadal and the Future
We are a week removed and the tennis world is still buzzing over Roger Federer’s US Open triumph. Federer, written off by most including yours truly at least for this US Open title, walks away the clear victor, while guys like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic fell flat as they neared the finish line of what turned out to be a long and crazy summer.
Love him or hate, you have to credit Federer for coming through to win the Open. The guy salvaged a miserable summer and a sub-par year by Federer standards to capture his 13th career Grand Slam, putting him just one behind Pete Sampras’s mark of 14, which he will likely match if not break next year.
Of course some people (not me!) argue the guy had a joke of a draw up until the semifinals, where he played an exhausted Djokovic and then an overwhelmed Murray, but fact is fact, Fed won the title, he deserves his due.
And credit Federer’s fitness. While Djokovic, Nadal and others were sucking wind (granted, they played more this summer), Federer was flying high. His bout with mono aside, when have you ever seen the guy in any kind of physical distress on a tennis court? And let’s not forget the fact that he has zero career retirements. What ever the guy does fitness-wise he needs to keep doing.
So is Federer really back? For now he is at least. Raja can pretty much walk on water between now and the Australian Open, and deservedly so after all the heat he has taken this year. Hell, even if Federer loses every match between now and the end of the year he can quickly remind the critics of his US Open triumph. (Maybe this “Pete Sampras mode” – that is, just concentrating on the Slams and pretty much screwing everything else – really might work for the Swiss in the end.)
But I don’t think he’ll go and lose every match just like he won’t win them all. It’s still going to be a very rocky road for Raja, but at least he’s got his confidence and game back for the time being. That said, I would still like to see him takes some extra time off, but in all likelihood his US Open victory is only going to make him want to play more.
Playing more is something Rafael Nadal shouldn’t be doing either. After a crucial Davis Cup tie with the U.S. this weekend the Spaniard should really think about easing up on his playing demands, especially with a possible Davis Cup final looming in December. And I think/hope he will. Nadal, who’ll finish the year No. 1, needs to mindful of saving energy for the start of 2009 when he’ll begin his No. 1 defense in earnest.
Incredibly in one short year Novak Djokovic went from the toast of NY to just plain old getting toasted. Amazing. And if you are a Novak supporter you can blame it on the media, his parents, his coaches, his opponents, his agents, his entourage, his hair, his breathing problems, etc., but Novak and only Novak took that microphone that night and let it out for all the fans and TV audience to hear during that infamous postmatch interview following his win over Andy Roddick.
The interview drew some heavy criticism with the Serb taking heat from just about every corner, loyal fans included. But as I said before I actually liked what I saw that night from Novak who stood up for himself to Roddick at a time and on a stage where very, very few would dare. That was gutsy.
And while the incident did some serious damage to Novak’s persona and psyche in the short term, I really believe he’ll walk away from it as a better player and person in the long run. (After Roddick said we he said in the press how many medical timeouts or questionable tactics did Novak employ in either his Roddick or Federer match? None that I saw. See, it’s working already!) But I think it’s going to take a while, a long while, before we see Novak holding up a Slam trophy again. He’s going to have to face the reality of not being the fan favorite like he so desperately wants to be, but rather the villain, at least for now. How he deals with that adjusted role I don’t know.
Speaking of villains, Andy Roddick use to be, or maybe still is, one of those villain guys. People seem to either love him or hate him. Regardless, he’s absolutely great to have around, always spicing things up and adding interest to just about any event he enters. But I get the feeling this year was Roddick’s last shot at another Slam win. I’d like to see another run, and he could still get another look at a Wimbledon final if things really break right on the SW19 lawns, but I don’t see a Major in the future for him at the other two (forget French Open). There are just too many tough players out there right now that can handle what Roddick has to offer. Maybe his new coach – I presume Patrick McEnroe will not be his full-time guy come 2009 – might get a spark out of him, but at this stage in his career Andy’s not going to suddenly wake up with Andre Agassi’s backhand or Patrick Rafter’s netgame. Credit to him for working on those weaker areas, but the reality is he’s more than likely on the downslope of his career than the upslope.
As for guys on the rise, and there are a bunch, things look better than ever for them and for the sport of tennis in general ahead. Andy Murray came up big at the Open, showing his versatility and talent in achieving his best showing as a pro. Despite his long summer, Juan Martin Del Potro really impressed me, going deep at the Open and fighting till the bitter end against Murray in the quarterfinals.
Ernests Gulbis displayed the kind of firepower that makes him lethal on any surface. It was great to see JW Tsonga make a positive return, winning two matches in his first event since knee surgery in May. Sam Querrey played some inspired tennis before getting turned away late by Nadal in a fourth round battle, and teens Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori showed they aren’t fearful of the big stage.
And it’s worth repeating, if you enjoyed this US Open just imagine what it will be like in a couple years when young guys like Gulbis, Cilic, Gael Monfils, Stan Wawrinka, Gilles Simon, Del Potro, Richard Gasquet, Tsonga and the rest of their generation – which I think will go down as the greatest ever! – mature further, putting even more pressure on their leaders Nadal, Murray and Djokovic and the elder crew of Federer, Roddick, Blake, Ferrer and Davydenko.
Good times ahead, indeed.
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