Federer Wins 5th Consecutive US Open Title

23:07 Mon 08 Sep 2008. Updated: 17:48 28 Jan 2009
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Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray in straight sets in today’s delayed final, 6-2 7-5 6-2, and took less than two hours to do it. The same Federer that many commentators dismissed as a contender for the title… despite his having not lost there in years. Yes, he had a bad early hardcourt season, but the only person you could really think would beat him at it would be Nadal, and even Nadal would have had tremendous difficulty doing so in New York. I don’t see why so many pundits were eager to state that he was in rapid decline, and now he’s made them look pretty bad.

These pundits appear to have lost their sense of perspective. Yes, Federer hadn’t won a Grand Slam title, and did poorly at the Olympics in singles, but still… he hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match to anyone but the eventual champion in years, and is still the best player not merely of his generation but probably of all time. Why would you think that one slump means he’s done?

Anyway, he made short work of Andy Murray. In the first set he was completely dominant, playing ridiculously good aggressive tennis and using that fearsome forehand to great effect. I think the signature point for that set was one where he set up the winner with a fantastic hard inside-out forehand to Murray’s backhand corner, and when Murray got that back Federer was moving into the net and hit a leaping cross-court topspin volley to put it away. While making it look easy.

In the second set, Federer was up 2-0 when his concentration went away, and he found himself at 2-2 0-40 before getting it back. At 15-40, he got lucky, as one of his shots in a long rally was out but wasn’t called, and Murray played on (in order for a player to challenge, they have to stop immediately). Federer took that game, and they stayed on serve until Murray was serving at 5-6, at which point Federer decided he didn’t want to play a tiebreak. He blew Murray away in that game and went up 5-0 in the third before again going through a lapse. Murray won one on serve and then broke, but with Murray serving at 2-5 Federer put an end to it.

Before the match, much was made of the fact that Murray had played the world #1 Nadal very intelligently, mixing up his speeds and cutting off the court, and that this would trouble Federer… but that doesn’t make sense, in fact it sounds like trying to beat Federer at his own game. Federer is one of the smartest tennis players out there, and adapts extremely well to his opponents. Nadal is such a problem for Federer mainly because of his unbelievable tenacity and his left-handed spin, as well as his willingness to bring the fight to Federer. I consider Nadal a highly intelligent player as well, but he doesn’t win against Federer by out-thinking him. Murray, despite his good head-to-head record against Federer, doesn’t have the natural tools to trouble him—at least not when he’s in the kind of form he was in for the first and third sets.

Federer’s play did suffer this year, and his bout of mononucleosis undoubtedly had a lot to do with that, as some could see plainly:

“Let’s all step back, take a deep breath and admit that Federer is still sick,” he said Wednesday. “It’s pretty clear to me he’s still not right.”

How does Courier know this? “Watch him move,” Courier said immediately. “Watch a tape from last year. You don’t lose a step at 27 years old — but he’s lost a good half-step. If I were him, I wouldn’t talk about it, either.”
Jim Courier, 03 Sep 2008

Since Courier said that, however, a number of people, including Federer himself, have claimed that his movement is back, and certainly it seemed like it against Djokovic and Murray. I do think that Courier had a point earlier in the year, and that Federer’s full recovery from illness has taken quite a long time.

However, even assuming that this isn’t the case and that he was fully fit the whole time, look at his year in terms of the Grand Slams: SF F F W, losing to the winner in all of the first three, and the Australian Open winner is the world’s number three, while the winner of Roland Garros and Wimbledon is the best clay court player of all time having one of the all-time great tennis years—which, incidentally, is the only reason he was able to wrest the number one ranking from Federer. It’s not like Federer suddenly had a terrible year and some nobody took the spot, Federer’s year would be amazing for any other player and the current world number one’s Grand Slam record is SF W W SF—with an Olympic singles gold in there as well. In fact, Nadal’s points for the Grand Slams alone total 2900, while Federer’s points for the Slams total 2850… not the biggest difference. Nadal absolutely had the better year in Slams, winning two, and with the Olympic gold is deservedly world number one, but given Federer’s results and the razor-thin difference between them at Wimbledon, there are no grounds for concluding that Roger Federer’s time has passed. The time to even consider such a conclusion won’t arrive until after he fails to make his first Grand Slam semifinal, and even then could still be a blip.

No male player has ever been as consistently great as Federer across all surfaces, and no male player has ever before won five consecutive titles at two separate Grand Slam events. I don’t think that really gets across the amazing and ridiculous quality of that consistency, however. A number of Sampras partisans claim that Federer has feasted on inferior opposition, although I don’t see how the greatest clay court player in history can really be considered thusly… in any case, I think that the following game, from early 2007, should demonstrate how absurd that idea is. As I said, early 2007—and Federer dominated them as well as everyone else last year, winning three of four Slams as well as the year-end championships, despite the fact that both of them can play this kind of tennis:

As amazing as that was, I should really end this with some ridiculousness of Roger:

And, in case you haven’t seen it before, one of the most ludicrous points of all time:

One Response to “Federer Wins 5th Consecutive US Open Title”

  1. Frank Says:

    The only reason people have been dumping so hard on the guy is that he’s been so hard to beat in the past. He had a couple weak matches, and suddenly everyone doubts his immortality. The mere act of questioning him make people think he must be on the way out.

    Think of it this way. If Spider-Man, who normally would have no trouble lifting a truck, were suddenly unable to lift a couple trucks, people would think he’s on the way out. It doesn’t matter that nobody else can lift a truck; the point is that for him, it should be cake.

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