For tennis writers everywhere, this should be the most intriguing of times, at least in the men’s game. The men’s top 10 features Spaniards who resemble bullfighters, Serbs who act like comedians, and Frenchmen who look like Muhammad Ali.
For those who seek to reveal the ATP Tour’s hidden gems, there’s only one problem: There’s a certain Swiss guy who makes covering those players seem about as meaningful as attending a dog show on Judgment Day.
Just ask Juan Martin del Potro.
After the Argentine scored four impressive wins at the Australian Open, Roger Federer used their quarterfinal match to show the young del Potro just how irrelevant he and his game really are. Federer allowed him three games in set one, and none after that.
For the latter rounds of a major men’s event, this is unheard of. This is the kind of beating Steffi Graf used to administer near the end of her major victories in the late ‘80s.
Having witnessed this, imagine how Andy Roddick must feel.
He’d just beaten Novak Djokovic earlier in the day for his biggest win at a major in at least two years. For Roddick, who must now face Federer in the semis, it must feel as though his prize for outplaying Djokovic is a last meal and a blindfold.
The good news for Roddick is that there is almost no way he can be disappointed by the semifinal’s outcome. Given the 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 loss he sustained against Federer two years ago, and the show that the Swiss put on against the Argentine tonight, Roddick could be triple-bageled and tennis writers would have to sum it up in the same way:
Too good, Roger!
The bad news for Roddick is that the obviously intense amount of offcourt training he put forth with new coach Larry Stefanki, helping him shed 15 pounds, is going to be of little use to him in his biggest test of the new year. The speed of his serve is his only real advantage against the Swiss, and any point lasting more than a few strokes automatically swings the advantage away from the American.
If one assumes that Roddick has little chance, what about the rest of the field? Two players left in the draw, Rafael Nadal and Gilles Simon, have lately given the Swiss trouble, having won all the matches they played against him last year. Since they play each other in tomorrow’s quarterfinal match, only one of them has a chance of making the final.
Will either of them be able to take Federer out of his game in the final, should he be feeling as strong as he did tonight?
And finally, what does this bode for the year ahead? Following Federer’s apparent decline in 2008, in which he “only” won one major title, nearly all still expected him to eventually break Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles. The fact that he no longer seemed able to summon his A-game at will indicated that his push to tie and then break the record would be the stuff of great theater.
If he can maintain this level of play throughout the year, it may be as dramatic as punching the clock.
All of this is very good news for Federer’s fans. Impartial tennis writers, however, are going to have our work cut out for us.