Nov. 12, 2006, 11:25PM
Federer's competition not impressive
By DALE ROBERTSON
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Rafael Nadal owns six of the 10 victories against 38 losses — the Masters Cup field has cumulatively managed against Roger Federer since the Swiss began his relentless ascent to the top with his breakthrough victory at Wimbledon in 2003.
Against Nadal and David Nalbandian , who defeated him in last year's Masters Cup final, he is only 10-8 (after Sunday's win over Nalbandian). But against the other five, he's 29-2.
And he owns seven-match winning streaks against Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko.
The eight seniors who played at River Oaks for the past week share the utmost respect for Roger Federer's talents and all concede he's one of the greatest players.
But none is ready to pronounce him the greatest. Why? Mostly because they aren't enamored with the quality of Federer's competition. Names such as Nikolay Davydenko, Ivan Ljubicic and Tommy Robredo — all ranked in the top 10 and all part of the elite Masters Cup field in Shanghai this week — don't send too many shivers down their spines.
"When Tommy Robredo makes (the Masters Cup)," the outspoken Goran Ivanisevic said, "something's wrong."
Added Wayne Ferreira, who retired with a 10-6 career record against the Masters Cup participants (and beat Federer in two of their three meetings, all in 2001): "I won't mention any names, but when you see some of the guys at the top and you remember how they played ... it's hard to believe they could have improved so much."
John McEnroe specifically laments Federer's shrinking serve-and-volley game, saying he doesn't use it as much as he once did because there's no need to. He wins easily by just staying at the baseline, a simpler and sufficient tact given the cowed state of the competition, save for Rafael Nadal.
McEnroe is also critical of a rankings system that he says rewards grinding it out week after week over rising to the occasion in big events. Davydenko is No. 3 in the world despite getting as far as the semifinals in just one of the Slams. But he has won 67 matches by entering 31 tournaments, the same number Guillermo Vilas played in 1977 when he won an Open era-record 130. Ljubicic? The world No. 4, has been as far as the semis just once in 29 majors.
Also galling to the Outback Series gang is the disrespect the top players show the Davis Cup competition. Most of them were fervent supporters of their national teams, none more so than McEnroe, who represented the United States for 12 years, winning 59 of 69 matches as the Americans won five championships.
Federer and Nadal have begged off for what could have been a monumental first-round meeting next year between Switzerland and Spain, with Nadal, 20, saying, "I don't usually play the first round."
"He's 20 years old and he doesn't play the first round?" McEnroe said with a smirk.
All OK at RO
Although the crowds weren't nearly as big as Jim Courier would have liked for the Stanford Cup at River Oaks last week, he insists the event exceeded expectations in every other way.
"Just a perfect venue, a beautiful club," Courier said of River Oaks. This was the first seniors event here and it won't be the last.
The Outback Champions Tour has a contract to return for the next two autumns and nothing happened to jeopardize that, all parties contend.
"The best marketing is always word of mouth," Courier said. "We hope the people who came and enjoyed themselves will come back and bring their friends next year."
Van Barry, the tennis director at River Oaks, said the club was delighted to have Courier and friends on site.
"They brought different faces and a different feel from our spring tournament," Barry said. "We're very pleased with how everything worked out."
InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, a company co-owned by Courier and Jon Vennison, staged a trial run at Westside Tennis Club here last fall and grew into a full five-tournament circuit this year. No easy task, to be sure, but the River Oaks stop went off remarkably gliche-free for what Courier said was "for all practical purposes a new event."
The only "negative," Courier conceded, was his not winning the championship.
Tiger Woods attended the U.S. Open final as Roger Federer's guest, watching his host defeat defeat Andy Roddick.
Last week, Federer repaid the favor in Shanghai, where he was preparing for the Masters Cup and Woods was playing in the HSBC Championships.
Federer tagged along for most of Tiger's first round, after which Woods said: "Obviously he's getting ready for his tournament, so for him to take some time out to watch me slash it around a little bit was very nice."