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2010 Australian Open Review: For Roger Federer – Can 17 Be Far Behind?

Posted on January 31, 2010 by JA Allen
Serena Williams topped Justine Henin in a great three set match.

Serena Williams topped Justine Henin in a great three set match.

Those of us who deliberately sabotaged our sleep patterns to watch the Australian Open these past two weeks found we arrived almost exactly where we expected since the draws were announced.  That is not to say that we did not experience some thrilling matches as counterpunchers reigned early and aggressors stayed late.

We rather expected one of the “unretired” Belgians to survive that tough third quarter of the women’s draw to face Serena Williams in the final.  That it was Justine Henin who charged to the finish line made the women’s championship match that much more intriguing because the rivalry between the sturdy American and the miniature French woman is steeped in silent, stoney resentment.

Serena won the championship in three tough sets 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.  But we expect the rivalry to blossom once again, especially as the tour heads into the clay season and spills onto the storied grounds of Stade Roland Garros where the Belgian will surely shine once again.

But more so –– we expected Roger Federer to be standing on one side of the net during the men’s final.  Oh, yes, there was talk about the recent dominance of Nikolay Davydenko and the quiet resurgence  of Novak Djokovic.  That is not to discount the sultry passion of the other Spaniard, Fernando, the body, Verdasco or the raw athleticism of Jo Wilfried Tsonga whose smile lights up the world.

Ultimately, however, Federer in a five set major is going to make it to the final –– consult the oddsmakers.

Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray in a Grand Slam final for the second time.

Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray in a Grand Slam final for the second time.

So the Swiss did on Sunday with the lanky Scott Andy Murray facing him in the championship match.  Fitting.  Murray had a splendid Australian Open Tournament for a change.  This time around, he was the hot player who dismissed his opponents and sent them packing.

He did so to challenger Marin Cilic who made his presence known and felt all the way to the semifinals.  Murray also dismissed the defending champion Rafael Nadal whose suspect knees let him down again.

As Federer polished off Tsonga in the semifinals on Friday, he appeared to issue a challenge to the younger Murray –– catch me if you can –– but I don’t think you will.

The truckload of British journalists and tabloid reporters pounced on the perceived “gamesmanship” posture of the Swiss No. 1, treating it as a slap in the face with a single glove.  Had Federer truly thrown down the gauntlet?  Of course he had.

Regardless the intent –– the target was clear.  Murray had every intention of bringing Federer and his confident encampment to their knees.  But this media turmoil only served to add to the mounting pressure on the shoulders of the 22-year-old Scot.  It proved to be just what Murray did not need but had to face if he was going to win this Australian Open tournament.

Roger Federer had every intention of making the burden too heavy for the Scot to bear.  The perfect advantage of the reigning No. 1 –– is making the opposition doubt itself.  It encourages tempered resistance instead of all out war.  It tempts testing the water instead of jumping into the match head on.

Murray was frustrated throughout the match with Federer.

Murray was frustrated throughout the match with Federer.

By making Murray cautious, the Scot played right into Federer’s game plan.  As the dictator of pace and placement, nothing or no one could touch the mighty Swiss.  Even as the Scot retreated, he knew better. But Murray could not overcome his natural instincts and he seldom ventured outside his comfort zone.

Naturally, Roger Federer won in straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 7-6, tested but never bested.  In the end Murray raised his level of assault in the third and final set –– but it was too little, too late.  This made his defeat even more bitter because Murray rediscovered that he had to play beyond his normal boundaries to take down Federer.

Murray did so against Nadal; but Nadal is so nakedly aggressive that the tactics to win against him are more immediately apparent.  With Federer –– it is different because the Swiss can lull you into that zone where you believe you can fly with him.  Too late, you realize that you cannot as he revs up into another gear that you don’t possess.  The problem for Murray is that sometimes the Scot’s normal game is enough in three set matches.

That may hold true post 2008  –– but never in five-set majors.  If Federer seizes that first set, chances are he will relax, seeing and feeling the ball better as the match progresses.  In the two sets that Federer lost –– both first sets against Russians Igor Andreev in the first round and Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals –– once Federer won the second set and found his rhythm and confidence, he became unbeatable.

Federer claimed his 16th Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

Federer claimed his 16th Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

As the dust settles after the Australian Open concludes both Roger Federer at age 28 and Serena Williams also at age 28 will retain their No. 1 rankings.  On the men’s side, Nadal will fall from No. 2 to No. 4.  Novak Djokovic will rise to No. 2 and Andy Murray to No. 3.  Interesting to say the least as those beneath Federer continue to slug it out tournament by tournament.

Slam number 17 awaits Federer.  The question of when it will arrive should soon dominate the media and consume tennis blogs across the Web.

But Roger will begin his move toward another Pete Sampras record –– total weeks at No. 1.  Sampras reigns with 286 weeks at No. 1.  Roger is third with 268 weeks.  That makes it just 18 short weeks to match the American.  Who will lay odds that Federer will not surpass Sampras again?

On the women’s side Dinara Safina will retain the No. 2 spot with Caroline Wozniacki taking over No. 3 , followed by Svetlana Kuznetsova at No. 4 and Venus Williams at No. 5.

Henin who was runner-up at the 2010 Australian Open still needs to play one more WTA tournament before she can be ranked.  Li Na who played Serena Williams so tough in the semis will move into the No. 10 spot for the first time.

As is their custom, neither champion will rush back into competition.  Both are content to  play the minimum required, showing up for the next compulsory tournament, biding their time until the next major presents itself –– along with all the competitors who wish to dethrone them and take over that elusive No. 1 mantle.

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