On top of the world, but still down to earth [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

On top of the world, but still down to earth

gravity
07-24-2004, 05:18 PM
Superlatives are seldom spared when Roger Federer's name is raised in tennis circles these days.

He is hailed as potentially the best player and most esthetically pleasing ever, and there is even mention of genius, not an easy label to carry.

Outrageously talented individuals such as John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase achieved significant results, but both waged career-long battles to reconcile themselves with the reality that they had been so blessed.

Federer, the No. 1 seed for the Tennis Masters Canada tournament, which will begin Monday at the new Rexall Centre, seems more at ease with his extraordinary gifts.

"I enjoy watching myself because my game is so different," he said after winning Wimbledon last year. "I like my technique. Everyone tells me that, and it's true."

That was just candid opinion, not the bravado of an overgrown ego. In fact, much as it was with his Swiss compatriot Martina Hingis, Federer is one of the most unaffected, down-to-earth No. 1 players in tennis history.

"He's the best player that I've ever seen that's also a great guy," Daniel Nestor, the leading man of Canadian tennis, declared this week.

"He hasn't changed at all since he's climbed the ladder. I think he's the best all-round player I've ever seen."

The son of a South African mother, Lynette, and a Swiss father, Robert, Federer took up tennis at 8 and his natural ability gradually evolved to the point that he was the world's No. 1 junior in 1998.

In his first few years on the professional tour, he was short-tempered and petulant. Then, he went too far the other way, controlling his emotions but not being able to stoke the fire he needed to compete at his optimum.

It showed in tournament finals. From 2000 to 2002, he was 4-6. Over the past two years, he is 14-2, including 11-1 in his past 12. Federer's 51-4 record in 2004 -- which has spurred him to seven tournament titles -- is the best since Ivan Lendl started 58-4 in 1989.

Federer's dominant Wimbledon performance -- he dropped only two sets in seven matches -- along with his record this year has tennis fans comparing him with Lendl, McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and the other greats of the men's game.

"He's really brought it together mentally over the last year," the world's second-ranked player, Andy Roddick, said of the man who beat him in this year's Wimbledon final. "The talent has always been there."

"I would panic a few years ago," Federer said. "There was more of an insecure feeling on court that would make me get nervous."

He made a sensational breakthrough in 2001, beating Sampras in five sets at Wimbledon and ending the great American's four-year reign as the champion.

That was in the round of 16. Federer was beaten in the quarter-finals by Tim Henman, aggravating a groin injury during the match. He really did not get over it until the end of 2001.

In 2002, he was upset by 18-year-old Mario Ancic of Croatia in the opening round at Wimbledon, but wound up the year ranked No. 6.

Last year, after a bad loss to Luis Horna of Peru in the first round of the French Open, Federer finally realized the success long predicted for him by winning Wimbledon, beating Roddick and Mark Philippoussis in the semi-finals and final with masterful play.

This year, after victories at the Australian Open and again at Wimbledon, he has joined Borg, Jimmy Connors, Stefan Edberg and Gustavo Kuerten as the only players in the open era (post-1967) to win their first three Grand Slam finals.

Fellow Swiss Heinz Gunthardt, a former top-25 player, coach of Steffi Graf and now a television commentator, is well-acquainted with Federer's game.

"There aren't any weaknesses," said Gunthardt. "He's probably got the best forehand in the business as well as a tremendous serve -- not only the first serve, but the second serve is tremendous under pressure as well.

"It's sometimes underestimated how well he moves. But he hits as many forehands as he does because he's a great mover," he said. "He's got variety, speed, and what impresses me most is how he can turn things around from the baseline. Bang -- one big forehand -- and he goes from defence to offence."

Federer's forehand is a marvel. He almost half-volleys (hitting on the short hop) the ball so that it whips over the net and then dive-bombs with serious ferocity.

"I feel I can give the ball an unbelievable amount of racquet speed," Federer, who will turn 23 in two weeks, said recently. "When the ball comes to me fast, I still have time to get the racquet around it -- to actually control it and play it back with spin. I don't know where that comes from."

Neither do his opponents, who more and more talk of him the way other generations talked of Borg and Sampras. And praise from other champions is equally glowing.

Boris Becker said: "He's playing the game a way I haven't seen before. How fortunate we are to be able to watch it."

Federer is accustomed to rave reviews but, "it's still nice to hear," he said, "even though in the beginning, it put me under a little more pressure.

"But with everything that comes now, it's a case of 'Well, thanks very much. And I appreciate it.' ''

For many tennis fans, the feeling is mutual.

Source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com