Re: Your top 10 Rogi moments of 2004
If I tried to list my 10 best moments I would simply end up listing 10 of Federer's 11 titles, so I'll mention the 10 best match wins instead:
1. Hewitt and Nalbandian at the AO - I'll put these together because I thought he was going to lose both of these for sure. When I first saw the draw I could not believe they were in his quarter, with Henman thrown in for good measure, just like Nalbandian had been in his section at last year's USO. His draw in the first few rounds was so easy, especially the drubbing of the tired Toddy Reid in the third round, that I thought he wouldn't be ready for the step-up in quality that Hewitt represented and in hindsight I was right with the way he started that match, playing so poorly at first.
I've said this before in this forum, but when I woke up in the morning to check the scores of these two matches I was convinced he had already lost both times, and was overjoyed to see the results. I was especially surprised at the bagel of Hewitt, but then I wouldn't have guessed that was going to become a regularity this year. I was worried that he couldn't solve the Nalbandian equation, bearing in mind that his only win at the TMC was just an awful performance by Big Dave, but he saved his best serves for crucial points and was more patient from the back of the court this time round.
2. Agassi at the USO - at last, a five-set win! I'd been thinking this year that Federer hadn't had to go the distance at either the AO or Wimbledon, and was well aware that he had lost his last three five-set matches including the last final he lost, to Novak in Gstaad. So I didn't know how he would do when pushed into a deciding set, especially with the conditions being so awful; as the commentators pointed out, it was the kind of day where you had to win ugly, which was hardly Federer's forte but he hung on and closed it out. I'd been anticipating this match right from the moment I saw the draw, but because of the rain I ended up watching Henman v Hrbaty on a Grandstand court with about 10 people on it while the Federer-Agassi encounter was taking place on Ashe, so I was agonising over two matches at the same time; in fact, the only set I ended up seeing live was the final one.
3. Safin at the TMC - an absolutely brilliant start, unplayable for the first few games, and then the match became tight. Wasting chances at the start of the second set, he was soon down a break, almost lost the set 6-1 and to be honest was let back in by nervous errors from Safin. But then came the tiebreak, possibly the most gut-wrenching, nerve-racking moment in all of Federer's matches this year. When the ball wasn't called out on his matchpoint I had visions of the headlines about Federer losing from matchpoint up, how a bad call had wrecked his unbeaten record against Top 10 players. But he shrugged it off and carried on and just as I said to myself that the set was over when Safin came in on a deep approach, he made that incredible backhand pass that Isy mentioned above. This match really emphasised how superb Federer's defence is - even on the final point, you could hear his feet skidding on the hardcourt as he just managed to retrieve Safin's shots and force him into an error that ended the match.
4. Hewitt at the USO - to be honest I could mention every single one of Federer's wins over Hewitt this year, so satisfying were they all, but for sheer brilliance this one was hard to top. The crucial thing was that not only was he completely dominant for two sets, but he also weathered the storm late in the second when Hewitt came back, saved setpoints and took it to the tiebreak. Hewitt hadn't dropped a set en route to the final, he'd only dropped his serve 4 times (in comparison to almost a dozen breaks of the Federer serve), and then within the space of two minutes Federer was completely dictating play, moving the ball around beautifully and accelerating the pace to a level Hewitt couldn't handle. It was very telling that on the matchpoint, Hewitt actually didn't bother running to Federer's last shot, knowing that he had been soundly beaten. When Dick Enberg interviewed Federer and praised his play on the serve, from the baseline and at the net, he asked "What else are you going to show us in future?", to which he gave the perfect, deadpan reply after such an utter demolition job: "Well, that's all I got."
5. Roddick at Wimbledon and Toronto - another cheat, I suppose, but they were both important wins because of all the prematch hyping about this being the rivalry of the future. hitchhiker was posting crap about how Roddick was going to destroy Federer, saying that all the finesse in the world can't beat 150mph serving, and for a set or so it looked as though he was right; Roddick was completely fearless, hitting the hell out of the ball, while Federer looked passive and paralysed by nerves. I simply couldn't believe that he managed to throw away a double-break 4-0 lead in the second set but then through a slice of luck grabbed it 7-5. He was behind again during the rain delay, and only when the sun had come out did the energy and purpose return to his game and he began to take the attack forward. Then he came up with a couple of clutch backhand passes in the tiebreak, the second one to win it, and I'll never forget the way his body shook as he roared towards his camp: there was the emotion that people think he doesn't have. He just managed to escape from all those breakpoints against him in the fourth set, took advantage of Roddick's mental collapse and finished the match perfectly with an ace into the corner. The reaction was special, and you can tell in hindsight that Wimbledon still meant the most to him of all his wins this year.
In Toronto the hype was there again because Federer and Roddick had been the only two top players to make it through the early rounds, they'd been head and shoulders above everyone else, and yet Roddick was playing so much better than Federer, who was doing just enough to win and had been sloppy against Johansson in the semis. Combine that with the fact that this was a North American hardcourt, and that Roddick's one victory over Federer had come at the same event in Canada the year before, and many thought he was going to win this time. But when Federer stood at 4-4, 0-40 on his serve, he promptly delivered three straight aces, and you could see how much that deflated Roddick, who in fact was aced on every breakpoint he had. Federer then came up with a brilliant series of passing shots, especially at the end of the second set, when he was pushed into his backhand corner and flicked a cross-court pass right onto the opposite sideline. When, off-balance, he managed to turn and hit another pass cross-court to get the break, he yelled "Yes!" and my commentator instantly replied, in disbelief, "No!" He then added, "I think that's the best game I've ever witnessed!"
6. Coria in Hamburg - this tournament and the AO were Federer's two best tournament wins this year for me, because of the breakthrough at another Slam in Australia and the quality of opposition he had to beat in Hamburg. After the tricky test of Gaudio in the opening round he'd handled the likes of Gonzalez, Moya and Hewitt so well, the first few games against Hewitt especially were some of the best he played all year. All the talk was of the 31-match winning streak on clay for Coria, and I'd watched that week as lower-ranked players had come so close to beating him but they hadn't been able to punch big enough holes in his defences or lacked the nerve to take their chances when on offer. Federer started out so poorly, mishits everywhere and poor serving, and I doubted he had enough good tennis to win three sets against Coria on clay, but he played an inspirational game to break and win the second set and this really seemed to crack the match open. The serve improved and he was able to stop Coria getting into too many long rallies, playing the match on his terms instead.
7. Henman at Indian Wells - I was really torn by this match, liking both players. I didn't want Henman to lose two finals in three years at this event after being drubbed by Hewitt in 2002, but at the same time I wanted Federer to finally win another TMS event, and on US hardcourt. I was actually expecting it to be a tight match, but he had made the right adjustments to Henman's game and although the slow surface always favoured his style, he still played very intelligently by rolling in high, kicking first serves that kept Henman stuck on the baseline. He also came up with another couple of extraordinary passes, including one where Henman hit a perfect short drop volley and Federer raced all the way up the court to the ball and slotted it cross-court onto the sideline, showing a degree of speed that I never knew he had.
The last three:
8. Moya at the TMC - a tight match, Federer not playing particularly well and Moya had more than enough chances to win, but Federer serve-volleyed to keep the points short and managed to save a number of breakpoints in the final set to hang on for the win.
9. Santoro at the US Open - not a massively significant win, not a hugely competitive match, but the tennis that these two produce is always entertaining and Santoro tested Federer's patience to its limits in the last couple of sets after being blown away in the first. I lost count of the number of times he ended up shouting to himself in disbelief at the quality of Federer's shots as he tried desperately to run them down, and the matchpoint summed it up: a long rally with two netcords, on the second of which Federer came into the net on a slice approach and Santoro just missed the backhand pass wide and collapsed onto his back, as if to say "What more could I have done?"
10. Agassi at Indian Wells - another tight contest with Agassi where Federer was playing poorly early on, making a lot of backhand errors, but managed to turn things around. In the final set he was down 3-4, 30-40 on his serve and they had a marathon rally, both men trying to avoid making a mistake, before Federer hit a huge forehand down the line to save the breakpoint and gave a massive roar. The pass he made on the full stretch in the next game completely threw Agassi, and he rattled off 8 straight points to claim the match.
The Wit and Wisdom of the Tennis Journalist, Indian Wells 2004
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I remember this one time when I went on a vacation on the Maldives. That was in the year 2001, I think. I went to this spa. I went to walk around with my girlfriend. I walk in, and we want to book a spa. This guy goes, "AHH, I remember you. You beat Sampras. I saw you on TV." That was like, really, how can you remember me? This guy has probably never been off his island and still knows me. I was a little bit shocked. Then I went to play tennis with him because he was actually the tennis teacher. It was nice.
Q. Were you naked at the time in the spa?
ROGER FEDERER: No. It was at the front desk. I didn't walk in naked.