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2007: More Roger the Great

By Scott Riley, Sports Network- The Sports Network

Just a warning, this 2007 review of men's tennis is going to be dominated by the dominator -- Roger Federer.

Chapter 1: The Maestro

No, he didn't quite sweep the Slams, but the supreme Swiss continued his stranglehold on the Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Australian Open and Masters Cup titles. The Basel native has won the last five Wimbledons, the last four U.S. Opens and the last two Aussie Opens and Masters Cups.

Needless to say, the Fed's trophy case is on overload.

Federer always seems to accomplish another "first," and 2007 was no different, as, among many other firsts, he became the first man since Bjorn Borg (27 years ago) to nail down five straight Wimbledon titles; the first player to win four straight U.S. Open championships in the Open Era; the first man to secure three of the four major titles in three different years; the first player to reach all four Grand Slam finals in consecutive seasons; and the first tennis player to eclipse $10 million in prize money in one year.

He's a walking tennis record book.

Federer's career prize dough is now over $38 million. Pete Sampras still holds the money record, for the time being, with over $43 million in earnings, but that mark will likely fall next year, as could the 2007 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee's Grand Slam record of 14 singles titles. Federer currently holds at 12 majors and he's obviously the very early favorite to prevail at Melbourne, Wimbledon and New York in 2008.

Federer was an awesome 68-9 this year and led the tour with eight of his 53 career titles. He finished as the year-end No. 1 for a fourth consecutive season and has now held the top-ranking for more than 200 straight weeks, yet another record. Federer broke an almost 30-year-old mark held by Jimmy Connors, who once sat atop the rankings for 160 straight weeks back in the day.

Oddly enough, Federer won only two of the nine Masters Series events in 2007 (Hamburg and Cincinnati). What gives?

The mighty Federer still needs the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam trophy case, but a guy named Rafael Nadal is in the way. Federer did manage to finally beat Nadal on clay this year, but it came at the Hamburg Masters, two weeks before Roland Garros commenced, snapping Nadal's remarkable 81-match win streak on the dirt.

(Pop Quiz: Who was the only other player, aside from Federer, to title on at least three different surfaces in 2007?)

Federer's closest competitors, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, also enjoyed fine seasons in 2007.

Chapter 2: The Spaniard

Nadal pocketed more than $5.6 million this year by going 70-15, which included six titles, three of which came at Masters Series events (Indian Wells, Monte Carlo and Rome), and finished second behind only Federer for a third straight year.

The world No. 2 Spaniard went 2-3 against Federer this season, with Rafa prevailing in four sets in the French Open finale and the Swiss barely coming out on top in the Wimbledon title bout. The back-to-back Wimbledon runner-up Nadal actually led Federer in the fifth set of their dramatic showdown at the storied All England Club.

Federer, however, capped their season series in resounding fashion by spanking the Spaniard in the Masters Cup semis.

The 21-year-old Nadal is still 8-6 lifetime against the Fed, thanks to an eye-popping 6-1 start to their all-time series, but the closing Swiss has won five of their last seven meetings.

Chapter 3: The Djoker

The third-ranked Djokovic was a solid 68-19 with five of his seven career titles coming in '07 and he looks like a real contender for Federer's throne and/or Nadal's bridesmaid spot in the rankings.

The affable Serb officially proved his worth at the Canadian Masters, where he became the first player in 13 years to beat the top-three players in the world at the same event. He bested Andy Roddick, Nadal and Federer, in order, to capture the title in Montreal. Prior to that, the last man to defeat the top- three players at the same tourney was Boris Becker in Stockholm back in 1994.

Djokovic reached his first-ever Grand Slam final, as he gave Federer a real fight at the U.S. Open in September. The Serbian star lost that quality match to drop to 1-5 lifetime against the sublime Swiss, including a 1-3 mark in '07.

And when it comes to playing Nadal, Djokovic met the muscular Spaniard on seven occasions in 2007, with Nadal taking no less than five of the meetings, including big semifinal wins at Wimby and Roland Garros.

FYI, two of the Djoker's '07 titles came at Masters Series tournaments, including Miami, where he became the youngest-ever champion at the so-called "Fifth Major" at tender age of 19.

Chapter 4: The Gambler

Another ultra-gritty star in the mold of Nadal is Russian Nikolay Davydenko, whose solid tennis, unfortunately, has been overshadowed by a gambling probe that's centered around him.

The ATP has been investigating some alleged match-fixing, specifically a match in Poland that involved Davydenko. The top-10 star was playing unheralded Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello when the Russian retired with a "foot injury" in the third set. Davydenko had won the first set and dropped the second before a large number of wagers started to pour in for his much-lower- ranked counterpart on a British on-line gambling website. The match wound up being pulled off the board, by Betfair, which notified the ATP of the suspicious goings on.

Several ATP players have recently come forward to say that they've been approached about fixing matches, and a wide-scale investigation is ongoing.

Davydenko then found himself amid even more controversy when he was fined $2,000 for "lack of effort" in a loss against Croat Marin Cilic in St. Petersburg (Russia). The Russian quickly appealed the fine, and it was rescinded (which means he didn't have to pay).

As far as his tennis is concerned, the world No. 4 Davydenko enjoyed yet another quality campaign, as evidenced by his 53 match wins and trips to the French Open and U.S. Open semis, where he succumbed to Federer both times. The hard-working Russian has now placed inside the year-end Top 5 three years running.

Chapter 5: The Other Spaniard

Speedy Spaniard David Ferrer enjoyed what you would have to classify as a breakthrough season, as he finally emerged from the shadow of his countrymen, culminating with a surprise trip to the finale at the Masters Cup, where, unfortunately for him, he was pulverized by the maestro that is Federer.

The 25-year-old Ferrer finished a career-high fifth in the world, thanks to 61 match wins and a trio of titles. The ever-improving star collected just under $2 million this year and could make even more noise in 2008.

Chapter 6: I Can't Beat Federer (Me Neither)

The American Roddick now appears to have settled into his spot outside the top three. He went 53-16 this year and tallied a pair of titles on his way to just over $1.5 million in prize money, but failed to reach a Grand Slam final and hasn't won a major title since his lone Slam championship at the 2003 U.S. Open. The three-time major runner-up (to Federer) gave Federer a great match at this year's U.S. Open, but still wound up losing in straight sets in the quarters.

The world No. 6 Roddick is a paltry 1-15 lifetime versus Federer, including setbacks in their last 11 encounters, dating back to 2003. A-Rod gave way to the tenacious Swiss in this year's U.S. Open quarters and Aussie Open semis and also suffered a loss in the round-robin stage at the season-ending Masters Cup.

Roddick did, however, cap his year with a huge win, as he helped the United States end a 12-year Davis Cup drought with a 4-1 victory over the defending champion Russians. Roddick captured the opening singles rubber in straight sets against Dmitry Tursunov, and the Americans wrapped up the title on the middle day of the best-of-five championship tie with a straight-set doubles victory by the twin Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, in Portland.

It also can't be overlooked that Roddick reached at least the quarterfinals at three of the four majors in 2007, highlighted by a semifinal appearance in Melbourne.

Chapter 7: Chilean Sea Bass

Fernando Gonzalez finished the year at No. 7, thanks in large part to his runner-up finish to Federer in Melbourne. The Chilean slugger, like everyone else mentioned in this article so far (with the exception of Sampras and Becker), landed in the season-ending Masters Cup, where he shocked the amazing Federer in their opening round-robin clash in Shanghai, which marked the Swiss' first-ever loss in round-robin play (17-1) at the exclusive eight- player extravaganza.

"Gonzo" settled for a 37-24 record and only one title in '07, but he's clearly one of the top-two South American players at this point, joining Federer's long-time nemesis, David Nalbandian.

Chapter 8: I Can Beat Federer (Me Too)

The oft-injured Nalbandian had a relatively quiet season in 2007 until the final few weeks of the campaign, when he secured back-to-back Masters Series titles in Madrid and Paris. He stunned Federer at both events, including the final in Madrid, and also took out Nadal at both tourneys, including the finale in Paris. In Madrid, Nalbandian became only the second player in the last 13 years to stop the top-three players in the world at the same event, as he stunned Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

The currently ninth-ranked Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, finished his year at 31-18 with two titles and a perfect 4-0 record against the world's top-two stars (Federer and Nadal). He was just 19-17 for the season before heading to Madrid, but wound up becoming one of the year's four multiple Masters Series champs, joining the world's top-three stalwarts -- Federer, Nadal (who led everybody with three) and Djokovic.

FYI, the powerful Federer is a combined 14-16 lifetime against Nalbandian (8-8) and Nadal (6-8).


Chapter 9: Afterthoughts

The other Top-10 dudes are eighth-ranked Frenchman Richard Gasquet and No. 10 Spaniard Tommy Robredo, but I really don't feel the need to include them in this particular review, even though Gasquet did have that compelling come- from-behind five-set win against Roddick in the Wimbledon QFs.

Chapter 10: Long Book Title

Roddick's fellow American, James Blake, notched 52 match wins and captured a pair of titles in '07, but finished the year a disappointing No. 13, after opening the term ranked a career-high fourth in the world, thanks in part to a runner-up finish at last year's Masters Cup.

But, like Roddick, Blake also closed out his season with a big Davis Cup title, as he won a pair of matches, including a huge singles victory against Mikhail Youzhny that gave the Americans a commanding 2-0 lead on Day 1 of the tie. Blake also secured a dead rubber on Day 3 in Portland.

Blake also made some headlines off the court, as his autobiography "Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life" climbed as high as No. 15 on the New York Times' best-sellers list. I do think the book needed a longer title, though.

Chapter 11: The Hype Machine

Here's the part where I talk about 6-foot-9 American hope John Isner.

He's got a wicked-hod serve!

There...I think I'm done.

Chapter 12: Free Willy

Honorable mention has to go to world No. 15 Guillermo Canas, who stunned the tennis world by taking out Federer in back-to-back Masters Series events at Indian Wells and Miami. The Argentine finished as the runner-up to an emerging Djokovic in Miami.

Canas also lost to Nadal in a final in Barcelona and soared into the quarterfinals at the French.

In addition to his monster Federer upsets, Willy returned from a 15-month doping suspension to win 39 matches and corral one title, his first one since 2004.

Chapter 13: The Failure

Who can forget this year's failed round-robin format experiment at several of the tour's typically draw-oriented events. The ATP had trouble figuring just who did and didn't advance at a couple of the doomed tourneys.

Chapter 14: The Comeback?

How about Sampras beating Federer in that exhibition match in China. The two greats -- one from Christmas past and one from Christmas present -- played a three-match exhibition series in Asia, as the Swiss claimed the first two bouts in straight sets, in Korea and Malaysia, respectively, before the 36- year-old Sampras came out on top in straights in Macau. Granted, it was only exhibition tennis, but Federer admitted that Pete can still play, thanks in part to that still-booming serve and his most-deft volleys.

Chapter 15: Tiger Tim Hung 'Em Up

This year also saw the retirement of former top-10 star and four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Tim Henman.

Tiger Tim, who was no spring chicken on the tour at 33, had battled back problems over the last couple of years and recently saw his family expand, once again, with the birth of his third child with his wife, Lucy.

Henman reached six Grand Slam semis, all told, including French and U.S. Open ones in 2004, but never landed in that elusive major final. He was the best British player to this point in the Open Era (1968), which, I guess, is some sort of consolation prize.

Eight other men called it a career in 2007, as big-serving Aussie Wayne Arthurs, Spaniards Alex Calatrava and Albert "Drop-Shot Dragon" Portas, Dane Kenneth Carlsen, Frenchman Arnaud Di Pasquale, American Justin Gimelstob, English wannabe Greg Rusedski and Dutchman Sjeng Schalken also rode off into the sunset. Rusedski, who hails from Canada but played for Britain, reached the U.S. Open final back in 1998. Di Pasquale beat a then-19-year-old Roger Federer in a tight three-setter to win an Olympic bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

Chapter 16: Family Guy

Kudos to Paradorn Srichaphan, but not for his tennis. The popular Thai tied the knot with Miss Universe 2005, Russian-Canadian Natalie Glebova, in a private wedding ceremony held in Bangkok on November 29.

Chapter 17: See You Next Year (Actually This Year)

The 2008 ATP season will commence on New Year's Eve later this month, with hardcourt Aussie Open tune-up events in Doha, Chennai and Adelaide. The '08 Oz Open will kickoff January 14.

(Quiz Answer: Ivo Karlovic. "Dr. Ivo" claimed championships on clay, grass and indoor carpet and also became just the fourth player in ATP history to swat 1,000 aces in a season.)

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