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post #243 of (permalink) Old 06-04-2009, 02:13 PM
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Re: Roger news and articles

Roger: Pleased to Meet Me!
Posted 06/03/2009 @ 3 :36 PM

By Pete Bodo

For a while there today, I thought I was going to go nuts. I sit beside Doug Robson (you can also read him in USA Today) in the press room, and there's about eight inches of room between the edges of our flat-screen, digital, Sony TV monitors. His was tuned to Serena vs. Sveta, mine was dialed in to the first set of the match between The Mighty Fed and The Flighty Monf - or, if you prefer, La Monf.

At about the time Federer and Monfils were playing their critical first-set tiebreaker on Chatrier, the women were handing break and match points back and forth out on Lenglen. My eyeballs were flying back and forth while I was trying to trying to keep up with the commentary in French on my box, and nearby Tom Tebbutt was yelling at some editor in Toronto about how well TMF was playing.

Granted, it wasn't the worst place to be on otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon in June, and my problem more or less solved itself with surprising speed when Serena gagged and Federer tagged a cross-court volley to do something he hadn't managed in his two previous rounds: win the first set.

Suddenly, the story line was obvious: these were two champions, traveling in two different directions - Serena toward the first-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport, and Federer toward, well, daring to go where few if not exactly no men have gone before - a career Grand Slam. There hasn't been much talk about "full flight" Federer these past few months; maybe from now on we should talk about. . . Starship Roger.

But let's look at that women's match first. It was complicated and highly entertaining in the manner of similar WTA brawls (for example, their most recent previous meeting, in the Australian Open of a few months ago). By the time it was done, Williams and Kuznetsova both clutched hanks of each other's hair, each woman had scratch marks on her face, and splintered fingernails. It's futile talking about turning points and momentum shifts in such matches. And while the following analysis, delivered in what is becoming Serena's trademark deadpan, halting, borderline sarcastic drawl, doesn't quite do justice to the gritty nature of the battle (one nasty tumble left Kuznetsova with a patch of clay sticking to her wet hair; she would wear it proudly the rest of the way), it's a pretty accurate description of what happened:

"In the third I had an opportunity and I got really tight, and I pretty much gave it to her (Serena was up a break early and served to stay in the match at 5-6 and was broken). It was like. . .'Here. . .' you know, 'Do you want to go to the semis? Because I don't.' She was like, Okay.' "

Some reports will also emphasize that Serena's praise for Sveta was lukewarm at best, and how she once again bathed in that storied Egyptian river when she said: "Honestly I think I lost because of me, and not because of anything she did. You know, I don't think that makes it easier, but it makes me realize that, you know, had I done different things I would have been able to win."

I don't mind the self-centeredness of this familiar rationalization; she's a highly combative, competitive athlete. What I object to is its careless, unexamined stupidity. I'll bet Serena would be far less inclined to seek comfort in that trope if someone, some day, asked her: Serena, does it ever occur to you that, oh, Virginia Ruano Pascual might have said the same thing after you dusted her, two-and-oh, in the second round? You know, had I done different things, I would have been able to win.

Duh! Serena's crime may not be arrogance, but simple thoughtlessness.

Anyway. . . I sitting just a few feet behind the baseline at Lenglen for the first set of the match and it was a treat, even for a worn-out old guy like me. I savored the great shots executed by these two exceptional talents, which were numerous even when interrupted by occasional bouts of the competitive yips. These are two of the most appealing ball strikers in the game, which means that they strip the two qualifying adjectives out of the term, "clay-court tennis."

If you remember their Australian encounter, you'll know that Kuzzie served for that one, too, at 5-4 in the second - only to choke it away. The letdown opened the door to a 6-1 in the third win by Serena. The big difference today was that Kuznetsova, while gagging frequently and freely at various points, never quite surrendered to the subversive fatalism that runs like veins of coal through her otherwise colorful thoughts and feelings. She didn't exactly banish doubt, she just managed it a hail of a lot better than she has on previous occasions. And for that she was rewarded.

In any event, the other closely-watched match of the day played out as differently as could be imagined. This morning, I posted some thoughts on how the "French issue" might affect this match, and my reasoning was flawed. I assumed (albeit unconsciously) that Federer/Monfils would be a shootout - maybe nothing quite so wild west as Sveta-'Rena (is anything?), but a good grapple in the red dirt. It was no such thing because Federer played a first set that would have entitled him to sit down on the next changeover and say to himself: Roger Federer? Pleased to meet me!

Federer came out firing on all cylinders, and you could almost visualize him ticking the items off a mental to-do list in that critical first set (and let's remember he hasn't won one of those here since the second round):

- Get your first serve in, often check

- Play aggressive, but don't take unnecessary risks, check

- Use your drop shot, check

- Make him work to hold, check

- Win set, to win over the crowd, check

- Remember pickles and chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream for Mirka (just kidding).

As TMF completed this list, we were left with images of tennis's version of sugar plum fairies, the Roger Federer of yore. Oh, there was a misstep here and there - jawing at umpire Mohammed Lahyani about missing that bad call by a linesman on a ball that basically landed at the foot of Lahyani's's chair at 2.3 mph was one of them. It isn't often that Federer gets booed, but he did then (by a few partisans, anyway).

Then there was that uncomfortable break-point situation at 5-5, resolved when Federer stayed in a quality rally long enough to tease a forehand error out of Monfils and quell the threat. And what was up with being set point down in the tiebreaker, with a second serve to hit against a Frenchman in Paris? A crisp overhead dispatched that menace, after which it was clear sailing. At one point, Federer hit a gorgeous winner, started walking back toward the baseline and, seeming to remember something, he threw in token, half-hearted fist pump.

It was like he was thinking: I don't need to do this crap anymore, but what the hail, for old time's sake. . .

Given Federer's multiple skills, and the depth of his tool box, it's sometimes easy to forget the extent to which, like any mortal tennis player, he tends to make his own life much easier when he's got a good serving groove going. That was never more obvious than it was today, and it seemed to me the key factor in the match. Although his 57 per cent conversion rate for the match (Monfils was one percentage point higher) may leap out at you, Federer's overall serving efficiency was praiseworthy. You know that the man is letting it rip when he ends up with his knees practically touching his abs as he follows through and launches forward.

The critical error Monfils made - and it was one that underscored that this was, after all, only his second Grand Slam quarterfinal - was losing his taste for the war after Federer won the first big battle. It was a pity, because Monfils handled the situation beautifully. He played a fine first set; whatever emotions he felt never distracted him his realistic game plan or his efficient, maturely calibrated stroking combinations. He played at a very high level, and if he failed to sustain it, the reason is more likely to have been inexperience than the inability to keep up that standard.

Monfils' confidence and focus wilted under the afternoon Parisian sun in the second set, and so did the crowd's willingness to offer their hearts and lungs to the distracted young warrior. But as this was Federer 2.0 again, many of them gladly hopped the razor-wire and bolted for the camp of the enemy. It was as if they were thinking, Hey, how many more times are we going to get the chance to be part of something that, if it comes to pass, would be as historic as a Federer win at Roland Garros?

Monfils played his way out of the match in the second set, and by the time he lifted his spirits and got into the chest-pounding, yelling, fist-pumping territory, it was too late. He wasn't going to fool Federer, he wasn't going to fool the crowd, and he wasn't going to fool himself. It was over.

Read the Federer presser - it contains some real gems, and his tone and overall attitude suggests that Federer's most perilous moments here might be behind him. Here's a question I posed in the presser:

The game and even the attitude you showed in that first set, some of us think we haven't seen that from you in recent times. Did you feel that way too? Did you feel you're back on a track that hasn't been running as straight as it has in the past?

He replied, "Well, I thought I played great in Madrid, you know. I was mixing up my game really well. I think these last four matches have been rather on the difficult side, just because I had some tough starts to the matches. Instead of maybe going ahead a break I was down a break or down a set. You know, being down a set is never really a comforting feeling. That's why for me it was important to get off to a better start today, and thank god I got the first set. For the first time I could play a bit more relaxed match. I think I showed it today. I was able to hit through the ball more. Everything just started to click. That's something I haven't had a whole lot at this tournament yet."

I wrote after the Haas match that there appears to be a fated quality to Federer's drive at Roland Garros this year, and his proudest fans ought to be happy to hear that he feels it, too. Of course, he may not want to go there - not in his own conscious mind, and certainly not in public even if he did entertain the thought. But read this riff, which he went on in response to a question about feeling the support of the crowd here:

"Yeah, I mean, I feel it since a few years now, to be honest with you. But this year even more extreme. When I walk on the streets or drive in the transportation or I go for dinner, everybody is like, This is your year. You've got to do it. They're screaming from their scooters and out of the car. They even get out at the red lights and want me to sign an autograph or take a picture. It's quite incredible these last couple of weeks."

As much as I love torturing Federer fans and could leave you with nightmares about jinxing your man by predicting that there's no way he loses this title, I'll leave it at that.

I mean, how can anyone not hope that Federer wins this one?


the recipe is simple yet but extremely rare:buckets of athletic ability coupled with gallons of mental tenacity are the core ingredients that produce a Tiger Woods,a Michael Jordan...a Roger Federer

roger is the best
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