Thursday, September 06, 2007

It's Not Even Fair

This has been one of the best US Opens on the men's side in recent memory (conversely, this has been one of the worst on the women's side). The number and quality of good matches, emergence of the next generation of players while the current generation is still peaking, and the brilliance of some of the play has made this fortnight extremely enjoyable to watch. The advent of instant replay for line calls has made the game more fair for the players and more interesting for fans. The state of men's tennis couldn't be better. Except for one thing: Roger Federer.

Now let me be clear, Federer is my favorite player of this or potentially any generation. He is a lock for greatest of all-time if he stays healthy (even if he didn't play another match you could make a compelling argument even now). With that said, it's not fair what he's doing. I'm not sure what sport he's playing, but I'm reasonably sure it's not tennis.

Last night Andy Roddick played what I think was the best tennis he's ever played. I've seen enough of his matches both live and on television to feel like that is an informed opinion. He played with an intensity and energy that would rival Nadal. His average serve speed was over 130 mph. He made virtually no unforced errors, no double faults, and played flawlessly at the net. He attacked at every opportunity, stayed aggressive, and executed his game plan perfectly. The level he played last night was that of a multiple grand-slam champion. He also got beat in straight sets by Roger Federer.

That match was of once a year high quality. Both players played that match as well as it could be reasonably played. But you only noticed it with Roddick. You noticed that Andy had a lot of energy. You noticed the speed on his serve and his brilliant net play. You noticed that he was playing as well as he could play in that moment. You did not notice it with Federer. Everything about the match last night looked normal for him. His movement, energy and ball-striking, while all superb, seemed to come from the same place it always does. While Andy dug deep and found a new level of tennis, Federer played the same level he has on countless occasions. I can't even imagine how discouraging that is, not only for Roddick, but for all the players on tour. You come to realize that it's not about you. All the years of training, countless hours on the court and in the gym, mental preparation, film study... it all doesn't matter. You can do everything right, everything you have been trained to do perfectly, and still fall short of Federer's every day level. And Roger doesn't have a coach. If you're a tour player, you're thinking "It's not even fair."

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