Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Ever-widening Gulf between Great Rivals Federer and Roddick

Day 3 at the U.S. Open

Janko Tipsarevic put on a magnificent performance to oust Andy Roddick at the 2nd round of the U.S. Open Wednesday night. After the American took the opening set, it was all Tipsarevic (Tipsy), as he overcame not only his fiery opponent, but a hostile Arthur Ashe crowd too. The combative Serb showcased all of his marvellous groundstrokes, court coverage and stiff mental strength to triumph in front of a packed American crowd.

The controversy which sparked Roddick to life came as he was serving at 2-5 in the third set. He was called for a foot-fault by the woman on the baseline, and this triggered an enraged Roddick into a lengthy rant against her. At first, as is typical with Roddick, it was hilarious, but when it persisted between every point of his service game, it became extremely distasteful, embarrassing, and, I hazard to say, terribly unsportsmanlike.

Thankfully Tipsy kept his cool and subsequently served out the set for a 2-1 lead to silence the crowd. That was only after Roddick began shouting "C'mon" after Tipsy netted a forehand at love-all and 5-3. That demonstrated no class at all.

Tipsy took the match on a tiebreak in the 4th, and I was delighted with Tipsy's great mental strength and real top class performance.

As I've said on a number of occasions, Federer broke Roddick's career in the 2009 Wimbledon final. The American will never recover from that heartbreak and it's only downhill for him from now. However, Roddick has been one of Federer's greatest opponents and rivals over the years, and they have played each other numerous times in the latter stages of Grand Slams.

And so we come to the comparison between these two players who have entertained us with so many top-class duels. There are so many differences between these two great competitors which explains why one of them is a "one-slam-wonder" and the other is the greatest champion to ever pick up a racquet.

Federer is the more natural player with fantastic natural talent, the sort of guy you can imagine holding a tennis racquet in his mother's womb, whereas Roddick's play has been engineered over the years. This is one of the main reasons why Roddick needs matches under his belt and plenty of practice to have the momentum going into a Grand Slam (GS), and Federer doesn't. Federer is one of the few blessed athletes where the talent is completely natural. He can go through a few poor smaller tournaments yet still turn it on at the GS stage. At any given time he can perform on the biggest stage.

Unlike Roddick, Federer has every shot in the book and possesses so much variety in his play. Forehand down the line, cross-court, backhand, overhead smash, efficient serve, backhand slice, forehand slice, top-spin, drop-shot, volley, even 'between-the-legs'! He just knows when to play the right shot - and even grander - how to execute it exquisitely too. Roddick has an awesome serve, but not too much else to worry anyone.

Next, and one of the most glaring differences between the two, is mental strength. Roddick has far too many moments where his emotions get the better of him, and he becomes more worried about patronising umpires and linesmen than getting his game together. However, these rushes of adrenaline don't tend to be long-lasting. On the other hand, Federer is a master of the mind. How he remains so cool in the tensest of situations is beyond me. He doesn't give anything away and his face always stays the same. He doesn't allow himself to get "too high" or "too low" mentally. Roddick is all about a saga of ups and downs, the mindset constantly shifting.

As a result, Federer is one of the best players who, after a bad point, can immediately hit back with a great play. This is because he trusts himself completely. He has a consummate trust and belief in his own ability and talent, a supreme confidence in his shots, that he doesn't have to change the way he plays, or deviate from his natural style. He's so good at blocking out the last point and focusing on the next. Roddick, however, is prone to allowing a bad shot or a faulty call to frustrate him and affect his performance.

While Roddick has improved over recent years, you just have to feel that the Wimbledon final of 2009 was a career-defining moment for both the American and the Swiss. For Roddick, he performed to his absolute peak and still somehow managed to end up losing. It was a shattering moment for him, and it's arguable that he has reached the pinnacle of his powers and can't really play any better than that. It's only downhill from here.

For Roger, it marked a history-defining instant, breaking Sampras' record of GS titles and really, coming full circle, after winning his very first GS title at Wimbledon in 2003. After becoming the owner of the most GS titles in history, he cemented his place as a legend of the game. His legacy, right there, was completed, from 0-15 GS titles in exactly 6 years. 6 years of tennis changed over 100 years of history. Whatever he achieves now is just an added bonus to a truly astonishing career. He has nothing left to prove to anybody. Deep down, he probably would love to beat Nadal in one more GS final, but the quest for Gs titles however, doesn't centre around one opponent - there are many threats to Federer in today's game.

When considering Federer's glittering career, there is a magical, mystical feeling wrapped in the word 'destiny' that occupies my mind. It's hard to describe in words. He was destined to reach 15 GS titles. Now he stands at 16. How much further can his enchanting career take him? He certainly has superior levels of fitness and health to carry him for another 3 or 4 years at the least.

It's a great wonder what pushes Federer on, now that he has achieved everything possible. Certainly it's not money. Having amassed over 50 million pounds in prize money, he could live his life several times over on the interest alone. So when money is not the motivation, what is? It's a real conundrum. He needs one more week at the top of the tree to equal Sampras' record of total number of weeks as the #1 player in the world. He doesn't possess an Olympic gold medal in the singles event. (He did win Olympic gold with compatriot Wawrinka in Beijing 2008 in the doubles tournament).

So there are not really too many more records of note to claim either. Perhaps it's about protecting his spot at the top of the GS table from a certain Mr. Nadal. The more Federer can snatch now while Nadal is at his peak, the less likely it will be for Nadal to catch him in the future. Or anybody else for that matter, because after Nadal, there is nobody even close to him on the GS ladder:

*Roddick: 1 GS
*Djokovic: 1 GS
*Del Potro: 1 GS
*Murray: 0 GS
*Soderling: 0 GS
*Berdych: 0 GS

Certainly nobody in this generation will cause Federer to shift uncomfortably on his throne at the head of history.

Just how much higher he can ascend is essentially up to him.

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