I don’t want my columns to sound as though they are a few connecting sentences holding together sayings from fortune cookies, but there is an old saying in sports about one needing to never get too high after a win or too low after a loss. The 2009 Men’s French Open may be an exception that proves the rule.
A Short Recap of the Championship Match
The first set was an exercise in one player coming out tight and the other taking advantage. Robin Soderling was tense. Roger Federer played a tidy set that did not give the Swede time to settle.
The second set saw a few backhand errors and miscues sneak into Federer’s game even prior to the madman who ran onto the court. Both men served well during the second set. I think the rain made footing a bit dicey and left the returner planted on the court giving the server a big edge in the subsequent rallies. Federer hitting four aces on four service points in the tie-breaker was a clutch performance. Federer also hit two forehand winners amounting to six clean winners in a race to seven.
The third set opened with Soderling seemingly still mesmerized by Federer’s flawless tie-breaker. The early break led to a fairly routine set for Federer despite having to save two break points.
Federer and Those to Never Win in Paris
While Ivan Lendl was bewitched by Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg’s attacking tennis on grass, many other top tennis players failed to conquer red clay. Tennis luminaries such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and Pete Sampras never won the French Open. Each champion had at least one near miss and plenty of heart break in Paris. Less decorated winners of multiple majors including Lleyton Hewitt, Patrick Rafter, and Marat Safin also failed to solve Roland Garros. Prior to his French Open win, Roger Federer had amassed enough near misses to almost encapsulate all of the disappointments of Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Edberg and Sampras. One could sense John McEnroe’s admiration when he asked Federer if he could hold the trophy.
Fourteen Majors and a Career Grand Slam
Pete Sampras’ greatest achievement was setting the all-time Grand Slam title mark at fourteen. Andre Agassi’s greatest achievement was winning the career Grand Slam. Roger Federer has now equaled the greatest achievements of the top two players from the prior generation.
Where Does Federer Go from Here?
Late in Andre Agassi’s career he seemed to be champion emeritus on tour. Young players looked up to him, fans admired his generosity and his results were generally good enough to make him a threat. Roger Federer’s game is not where it was 2004-2006. His competition is also more formidable. If Federer is unfazed by not winning over 90% of his matches and winning 11.33 titles per year as he did between 2004-2006, he can be champion emeritus at a much younger age.
Roger will turn 28 in August 2009. He is married and has a child on the way. He has tied Pete Sampras’ Grand Slam record, but due to winning Roland Garros most will say that the tie goes to Federer. While some will always find faults and question Federer’s body of work, he goes forth from this event with a lot more freedom than if he had tied Sampras’ record on a hard or grass court.
During the hard court Summer of 2007, I thought Roger seemed to be playing more cautious tennis. In 2008, he got roughed up at the Australian Open by Novak Djokovic, got humiliated by Nadal at the French Open and got dethroned by Nadal at Wimbledon. Prior to the 2008 U.S. Open, I sensed that he might never win another major title. He was so close to a career goal and to not achieve it would lead to whispers of “he won five consecutive … but could not quite get there.” Winning the 2008 U.S. Open made me think that Federer would get to fourteen majors, but that it might take a couple of years.
Now that he has fourteen major titles, Roger Federer can swing more freely. Nadal is already a great champion. Djokovic and Andy Murray are all extremely formidable players. Juan Martin del Potro is on the cusp of being in that same league. Time guarantees that a few young players will emerge and become elite. Furthermore, players such as Soderling might be late bloomers a la Patrick Rafter.
Federer being able to swing freely and not worry about where he stands, is a frightening thought. We saw how tightly wound he was at this year’s Australian Open. Federer now has the anchor of knowing that he equaled Pete Sampras’ fourteen major titles and completed a career Grand Slam. I also suspect that the sense of purpose and perspective brought on by parenthood will further temper most anxieties regarding tennis results.
All of this serenity, might lead Roger to lose his edge. After all, how many dragons are left to slay? Is winning a Davis Cup title or a singles medal at the 2012 Olympics worth living out of a suitcase when he could be playing with his infant?
On the other hand, Roger might like to test his game against a host of talented younger players knowing that every win adds to his legacy, but that no loss can tarnish his body of work. In that case, Federer as the champion emeritus at various events will be akin to seeing former greats such as Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Mats Wilander hanging around the Grand Slam events except that Federer will be relatively young and someone’s semifinal opponent. After playing several years of tennis with a lot of expectations on his shoulders, my guess is Roger wants to play at least a few years as a guy with a lot of game and nothing to lose.
5 After Thoughts
1.I was glad John McEnroe brushed aside the Tiger Woods-Roger Federer comparisons. I like golf, well I like disc golf, but one sport requires walking 4 miles over 3 hours to strike a stationary object while the other requires split second decisions regarding a moving object while running.
2.For those who complain Tennis-X does not have enough pro-Federer content, I can only say my Facebook posts after the match confirm that I am a Federer fan.
3.If you don’t believe #2 check out the Roger Federer song (my only obnoxious post). Maybe this can replace Rick Rolling…
4.As I mentioned in a thread, I was impressed with Soderling’s speech, I felt bad when I saw his parents, but he has a lot to be proud of and look forward to.
5. Juan Martin del Potro is an early candidate to win the U.S. Open.
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