Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Roger Federer Fights for Supremacy in Basel

Posted on October 31, 2009 by JA Allen
Even Macy's balloons like Underdog wear out over time.

Even Macy's balloons like Underdog wear out over time.

How many times can you inflate a balloon before the skin gives out – before the form will no longer hold air?  Can you extend its life by only rolling it out only once a year to fly above the crowds lining the pavement during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

I think of Underdog, somehow…always a favorite of mine.

If Underdog only flies once a year does that diminish his super hero powers when he does take to the air to save his darling, Sweet Polly Purebred?

These deep philosophical queries obviously have nothing to do with latex – but rather with the presumed deflating career of the greatest man ever to wield a tennis racket – Roger Federer.

I say this, tongue-in-cheek knowing many disagree with my assessment – understanding the comment may stir the fire again.  Such is the nature of our business – is it not?

Roger Federer is 28.  Most of the 28-year-olds I know are still babies – cloaked in baby fat and disgustingly wrinkle free.

At age 28, Roger Federer is considered old for a top-level tennis player.

At age 28, Roger Federer is considered old for a top-level tennis player.

In tennis years, however, being 28 is akin to being Methuselah.  That is because tennis is hard on joints.  Not the kind you smoke or where you go to down a few brewskies after work – but innumerable body parts.

Knees suffer, backs suffer, elbows, wrists and ankles all suffer because of the the constant stop and starting and the extreme exertion when you play day after day, week after week often three and fours hours at a time for 11 months a year.

The sport of tennis kills off its best players prematurely with its scheduling.  No one denies it – nothing is done to stop this cannibalistic tendency in this great sport.

Just when an athlete survives the early years to rise to the top and his or her experience might step in to provide an edge as athleticism begins to diminish slowly – the tennis player’s body is finished, exhausted, injured irrevocably because of years of constant wear and tear.

More than any other player in its history, Roger Federer has tried to stop the march of time.  With preventative conditioning as his primary focus, Federer has survived to fight another day in good condition, flying above his competition.

Instead of praising his foresight, critics wish to usher him out the door to make way for new talented players whose time is almost here.

For the media, it is not “if” but “when.”  In the press there is no “standing still;” there is only moving forward or falling back. Such is the nature of the beast.

Those who see the irony of standing on this precipice understand the frustration superhero Federer must feel at trying to preserve his energies for the battles ahead.  For Federer at 28, less must produce more.  He needs to perform less often yet have the best results possible.

Hard to do?  Very near impossible.  You need to be a super-hero, almost.

Which makes the tournament at Basel quite a poser this coming week. Roger Federer is defending the title he won last year by bludgeoning David Nalbandian in the final.  You recall 2008?  It was not a pretty year for the Swiss man who managed to win only one grand slam, the U.S. Open.

What a bummer!  But he took it to Nalbandian in the Swiss Open final, handing the Argentine his head on a platter, playing perfect tennis.

As reported by this commentator last year: “Federer was on fire from the first…he served like a coiled spring and moved like waxed silk. Eight aces blazed past David Nalbandian, one of them a second serve ace down the line that wowed the Federer crowd.  Federer surrendered only seven service points in the entire match.”

This year, after taking a month off after the Davis Cup tie, Federer will return to play in his home-town tournament with typical high expectations awaiting him.

Roger Federer could end 2009 as the number one player in the World.

Roger Federer could end 2009 as the number one player in the World.

He must face a fairly potent field that includes Novak Djokovic, Richard Gasquet, Fernando Gonzalez, Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, James Blake, Radek Stepanek and Stanislav Wawrinka – to name a few.   As of this writing, Juan Martin Del Potro has not confirmed his presence at Basel.

It looks like Federer will have his work cut out for him – but then with the exception of Ivan Ljubicic, Phillipp Kohlschrieber and Julien Benneteau and a few others – the men participating are also well-rested.

It will be a matter of working his way into the tournament.  No doubt there will be no easy matches for any of the players whose games may be a bit rusty at this point.  This tournament, too, will serve as a warm up for the final ATP event in Paris – the BNP Paribas Masters.

There is also the continuing saga regarding the final two positions for the end of the year Barclay Championships to be played in London with those in contention sparring at either Basel or at the Valencia Open.

In Valencia combatants Nikolay Davydenko, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco, Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils as well as defending champion David Ferrer will compete with established finalists Andy Murray and Andy Roddick.

These last two weeks will determine who will secure the final two places up for grabs for a trip to London.

Roger Federer is seeded number one at Basel and he may be seeded number one at the end of the year, although there is no assurance of his number one ranking at this point.

He has to be almost super-human to continue his dominance.  The question remains can he do it?  Those who believe in miracles sing on…Speed of lightning, roar of thunder – fighting all who lob or blunder – Underdog, Underdog!

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

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