article: the player of the year 2003
There are only three candidates -- the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 players in the ATP year-end computer rankings, Roddick, Federer and Ferrero.
The points are so close -- 4,535 for Roddick, 4,375 for Federer and 4,205 for Ferrero -- that a subjective analysis of each player's year is probably the best way to determine who really deserves to be chosen No. 1.
To start off, it makes sense to eliminate Ferrero from consideration. Yes he was the only player to win a Grand Slam and reach the final of another (the U.S. Open), but the Spaniard won fewer tournaments -- four -- than Federer (seven) and Roddick (six).
He also lost his past six matches of the year, including three at the grand finale Masters Cup in Houston and two in the Davis Cup final against Australia in Melbourne.
So it comes down to Roddick and Federer.
In Roddick's favour, he finished atop the computer ranking and had the best record in the Grand Slams -- winning Flushing Meadows and reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
Federer (to Peruvian Luis Horna), like Roddick (to Armenian Sargis Sargsian), was ousted in the first round of the French Open and was beaten (both times by Nalbandian) in the round of 16 at the Australian and U.S. Opens.
Nonetheless, the Swiss smoothie gets this columnist's vote for player of the year. Here are the reasons:
1. He had a superb Davis Cup record, winning five matches in straight sets against the Netherlands (Raemon Sluiter and Sjeng Schalken), France (Nicolas Escudé and Fabrice Santoro) and Australia (Mark Philippoussis) and then leading Hewitt 7-5, 6-2, 5-3 in the sixth match, only to have the fiery Australian fight back to win 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-1. Roddick was 1-1 in 2003 Davis Cup (a loss to Slovak Dominik Hrbaty and a win over Karol Beck in World Group playoff action in September in Bratislava). There are no ranking points in Davis Cup, but had there been, Federer (a one-man wrecking crew on an otherwise woeful Swiss squad) would have vaulted ahead of Roddick.
2. Federer had 2-1 head-to-head records against both Roddick and Ferrero in 2003.
3. The decisiveness of his Wimbledon (still the greatest tournament) victory -- mesmerizing dismissals of Roddick and Mark Philippoussis in the semi-finals and finals -- was unmatched by the year's other Grand Slam winners. Federer then finished the year with another bravura display at the Masters Cup, outclassing Roddick and Agassi in the semi-finals and final to win the fifth most prestigious (after the Grand Slams) title of the year.
4. Roddick's U.S. Open victory was slightly tainted by the rain that wiped out almost three consecutive days. It resulted in his getting one round ahead and having to play one day fewer (three) in a row than runner-up Ferrero (four) to win the title.
Finally, here's a nod to Federer for his refreshing candour.
By way of explanation, it must be noted that a constant din of conversations can be heard, especially during the early rounds, in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open. Such is not the case in the main arenas at Wimbledon and the Australian and French Opens.
At Flushing Meadows, a reporter asked Federer, "Do you feel the fans here are more knowledgeable than most tennis fans at the other Grand Slams?"
He answered: "I think the opposite. Not to criticize them, but Wimbledon crowds and Australian Open crowds, to me, seem to really come for the tennis. Here, people come more just to enjoy the show."
Marat Safin - always the one and only