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Sports Then and Now

Roger Federer Enters The U.S. Open At The Top Of His Game

Posted on August 24, 2009 by JA Allen
Roger Federer will be looking for his third Grand Slam title of the year at the U.S. Open.

Roger Federer will be looking for his third Grand Slam title of the year at the U.S. Open.

When the latest ATP rankings came out on Aug. 24, 2009, there was a new world number two player who was not named Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer.  Scotland’s own Andy Murray was the first man to break the iron grip on the top rankings since Nadal took over the number two spot on July 25, 2005 – over four years ago.

Nadal held that number two spot for 160 weeks before he finally seized the number one ranking from Roger Federer.  From Aug. 18, 2008 through July 5, 2009 the Spaniard held the crown of number one – eventually handing it back again to Federer, currently ranked in the top spot.

Recently, rampant speculation led tennis fans to believe that Murray was the next best, greatest player. Experts convinced us to think that Nadal was finished, his knees forever an obstacle to the Spaniard’s re-ascension to the top.  Never mind that Nadal is only 23.  He seems older because he has been around so long, playing his first professional match at the age of 14.

Then, too, according to those precise prognosticators, Federer was done – he could not win any more against top players like Murray, Nadal or Novak Djokovic.  For the press, the inevitability of Federer’s demise became the focal point of any discussion about other top players.

Yes, he had won the French Open and Wimbledon in 2009 but Federer, they reiterated, never faced Murray, Nadal or Djokovic in the finals of these majors.  Somehow, they felt that this was an important factor to be considered as Federer looked to the U.S. Open Tournament beginning in New York later this month.

The only one not convinced of his inevitable fall was the great man himself, who during the ATP Masters Tournament in Cincinnati took it  first to Andy Murray in convincing fashion during the semi-finals. . . even on a day when the Federer first serve seemed to be missing in action for most of the match.

Andy Murray has broken through the Federer-Nadal juggernaut to become the number two player in the world.

Andy Murray has broken through the Federer-Nadal juggernaut to become the number two player in the world.

Federer played an impeccable match against the man taunted to be the next number one.  It looks as though Murray’s rise to the top may not come as quickly as the pundits predicted.

It was like Federer fired a warning shot across the bow to alert his competitors that the Swiss maestro was not finished by any stretch of the imagination – that the appeal of winning slam number 16 at the U.S. Open was the next trophy of interest to the man of steel.

Murray, who won the Roger’s cup last week against Juan Martin Del Potro 6-7, 7-6, 6-1 schemed to make it two ATP Masters Shields in row ,but Federer had another conclusion in mind.  He was weary of people telling him about how Murray had won their last five contests since the U.S. Open final a year ago.

They said that Murray had his number, had him in his sights, could defeat him without much effort.  Federer set the record straight in Cincinnati.  He was the dominant player on court and left little doubt about his ability to rise to any level of competition set before him.

Federer broke Murray twice in the opening set, taking it 6-2.  Being aggressive on each and every point, Federer pressed Murray.  He went for his shots and it seemed the old Federer was back, ready to do battle and meet the enemy head on!

In the second set, Murray stayed level, taking it to a tiebreak.  He fought his way back from a 4-1 Federer lead, but eventually, Murray succumbed and Federer won the tiebreak 8-6 and took the match in straight sets.

Rafael Nadal's recent loss to Novak Djokovic adds additional doubt to whether he can return to previous form at the U.S. Open.

Rafael Nadal's recent loss to Novak Djokovic adds additional doubt to whether he can return to previous form at the U.S. Open.

That left the possibility that Rafael Nadal might conceivably win back his number two ranking if the Spaniard won the tournament in Cincinnati – but that was a short-lived scenario since Djokovic won the second match of the semifinals 6-1, 6-4.

Djokovic made quick work of Nadal during the night match, winning the first set in just 30 minutes.  The whole match took a little over 90 minutes.

In winning, Djokovic snapped Nadal’s five-game winning streak against the talented Serb.

Djokovic defeated Nadal in the semifinals just as he did last year on his way to the finals in Cincinnati, only this year he faced Federer, rather than Andy Murray, on Sunday afternoon.

During the first set of the final, Federer was stingy, allowing Djokovic only one game, breaking the Serb twice in the opener.  The first set lasted less than 30 minutes. Even so it caused Djokovic to change his shirt – from red to white.

In the second set, Djokovic rebounded and after winning his opening game, broke Federer in the second game.  Holding his serve again, Djokovic went up 3-0 with that one break of serve.  Federer broke back in the fifth game of the second set, holding his own serve to get even at 3-3.

In the critical seventh game Djokovic double-faulted at 15-all.  Federer’s shot-making brought oohs and aahs from the crowd as the Maestro gained a break point.

Djokovic continued to misfire at critical times, especially on his serve, setting up second serve opportunities for Federer.  Djokovic’s second serve winning percentage was minuscule.

At deuce number three, Federer hit long, giving Djokovic the advantage which this time he brought home, taking a hard-earned game on his own serve.  The wind quickly became a factor in the match – but Federer held on to make it 4-4.

Djokovic held a set point in the tenth game but Federer converted, evening the second set at 5-5.  In the eleventh game on Djokovic’s serve at deuce,  after a botched drop shot attempt, Federer finally broke Djokovic and served for the set at 6-5.

Roger Federer took command of the match and served it out at love, thus winning the championship 6-1, 7-5 in a brilliant display.  He won his 16th Masters Shield by taking the trophy in Cincinnati, now trailing Andre Agassi by one for most Masters shields (17) in a career.

The impetus of this match will carry Roger Federer into the U.S. Open with supreme confidence, having the chance to win his sixth consecutive U.S. Open Championship as well as his 16th grand slam victory, one for each Masters triumph.

JA Allen is a regular contributor to Sports Then and Now.

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