Let Federer's Americanization begin!
U.S. Open champion has become star most in demandCOMMENTARY
By Howard Fendrich
The Associated Press
Updated: 5:27 p.m. ET Sept. 13, 2004NEW YORK - Roger Federer played pingpong with Regis Philbin. He met Tony Danza, who told Federer he makes it look easy on the court; Federer informed Danza that “Who’s the Boss?” was huge in Switzerland. He was interviewed by Charlie Rose and John McEnroe. And then it was off to Los Angeles, where a Vogue photo shoot awaits.
The Americanization of Roger Federer began Monday, his first full day as the U.S. Open champion and the only man since 1988 to win three Grand Slam titles in a year.
The globalization of Federer — the person and the tennis player — was completed long ago, of course. With big forehands, tough-to-read serves, on-the-run lobs, can’t-possibly-get drop shots, improving volleys, etc., etc., etc., Federer does it all. He can outslug you from the baseline, outquick you at the net and simply outwit you.
Federer made Lleyton Hewitt look like a weekend hacker in the first and final sets of a 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-0 victory Sunday at the U.S. Open, the first time in 120 years that the tournament’s final featured two sets at love. And, it turns out, Federer did it all with a head cold.
What does he think when he hears so many people describe his play as beautiful, a sort of artistry that’s a wonderful contrast to the hit-as-hard-as-you-can school of tennis gaining in popularity over the years?
“I don’t want to be cocky or anything, but I feel the same, in a way. I know I’m playing nice tennis,” Federer said. “It’s very simple. I know there is no extra movement in my technique that makes me look strange. Movement and technique have to fit together. I found the right balance, and that’s what gives me all this praise.”
His game is as varied and fluent as his language skills: In a span of 10 minutes Monday, he went from speaking English with a dozen print reporters to doing a standup TV interview in Swiss German to doing a radio interview over a cell phone in French.
Yet as much of a star as he is around Europe, Federer is still trying to grab a place in the public consciousness over here. On Monday, he walked into the Hard Rock Cafe in midtown Manhattan carrying a 7-pound silver trophy — and not one customer batted an eye, much less asked for an autograph or a picture with him.
“The more places I go, the more I’m a celebrity. This will only increase by me winning the U.S. Open,” Federer said. “For me now, in the States, I don’t really have a clue what’s going to happen.”
Some have suggested that he won’t match Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles — Federer is 4-for-4 in major finals, a first in the Open era — because the hunger won’t last or distractions will mount.
But Federer is not the typical pro athlete. He travels with his girlfriend, his physical trainer and a pal. No coach. No agent. No PR
manager. No entourage filled with hangers-on.
And he already knows that a simple chuckle is the best way to deal with the sorts of questions that will be coming: Can you complete a Grand Slam? Can you catch Pistol Pete? Are you the greatest ever?
“It’s going to take some time to let it sink in and really realize what I achieved. When people started talking about four out of four at the beginning of the year — Grand Slam titles — I was laughing inside, going, ’You guys are insane,”’ Federer said.
“Now that I’ve won three out of four, I know that I’ve done something unbelievable. Like Lleyton said yesterday, the other players know that, too, with the depth of the men’s game right now.”
The men’s and women’s games appear to be going in opposite directions. Federer’s Wimbledon-U.S. Open double ended a streak of 18 majors in which no player won back-to-back titles, the longest such drought in more than 35 years.
He might very well have put an emphatic end to the parity, going 64-6 in 2004 with nine titles.
Four women divided this year’s majors — Justine Henin-Hardenne, Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova — and a fifth, Amelie Mauresmo, is ranked No. 1 as of Monday. The depth in women’s tennis is such that Serena Williams is ranked 10th, Venus Williams is 12th, and the last two Slams were won by players seeded 13th (Sharapova at Wimbledon) and ninth (Kuznetsova at the U.S. Open).
It wasn’t long ago that Federer was the Phil Mickelson of tennis (back when the pre-green jacket Mickelson was still the Phil Mickelson of golf): the best player never to win a major. In his first 16 Slams, Federer had three times as many first-round exits (six) as quarterfinal appearances (two).
His last opening-match major loss was in May 2003.
“So many things have a changed in a little bit over a year, if you look back. After the French Open — I lost in the first round — I was sitting in the press room trying to explain why and trying to tell the people to relax a little bit and not put too much pressure on myself,” Federer recalled.
“Here were are, six Grand Slams later, and I have four of them. Now suddenly I will be ’the greatest player ever.’ It’s quite a contrast.”
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