Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of his generation. There are no real questions about that.
But don't you get bored with the tedious comparisons of Fed to other players? I know I do.
So I decided to look at the 2009 U. S. Open tennis championships from a slightly different point of view.
The Men’s Draw has been completed for the 2009 U.S. Open, and by now, the potential path to the title has been analyzed ad infinitum by experts who follow the game much more closely than I do.
So even though I will give some overviews of the who-might-meet-whom, I decided to give this slide show a very special twist...but more on that later.
Going into this year’s USO, Roger Federer has a fairly comfortable point lead (12,040 to 9,610) over still-pretty-new No. 2 Andy Murray, whose lead over the returning Rafa Nadal (585 points) is far more tenuous.
The two men at the top have the most points to defend, having made last year’s final, so Murray in particular needs a strong showing if he wishes to consolidate the gains he has made this summer.
Nadal leads Novak Djokovic by almost 1,400 points, and has little to worry about, short of a first round exit. . . which is quite possible.
The redoubtable Spaniard made the semis in Cincinnati, but the draw at the USO did him no favors.
He has the unenviable task of facing off with the ever-danger Richard Gasquet in the first round.
No sane fan of men’s tennis would skewer me if I picked Gasquet in an upset (though I’m not going quite that far.)
He would then likely face Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer in the second round; and if seedings held would be challenged by countryman Almagro, a pair of Frenchmen in Monfils and Tsonga, and the Scotsman Murray in the semis.
That’s a meat grinder that even an in-form Nadal would find vexing; look for Tsonga to take out Rafa in the Quarterfinals.
Was the draw truly random this year? Nadal drew two Frenchmen, and the Scot, Murray, drew a pair of Croats (if the seedings hold) in consecutive rounds in Ivo Karlovic and Marin Čilić in the third and fourth rounds.
Assuming Murray passes those tests (and he should), he will face down the hard-hitting Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters. I’m riding with Murray.
Novak Djokovic has a fairly easy quarter. If everyone does their part, he should meet Andy Roddick, however, in the round of eight (the quarters). That’s where his tournament will end.
Roddick, in turn, would face Roger Federer in the semis, should he fell the Djoker. It’s a grand stroke of fortune that Roddick won the 2003 USO, otherwise he would bear the dubious title of BMNTWAM—Best Man to Never Win a Major (currently held by Murray). Will an Andy win the USO this year--Murray his first, or Roddick's second?
Though Federer has the easiest draw of all, he does face potential daunting tasks in the third (Lleyton Hewitt) and fourth rounds (Tommy Robredo). Should he (likely) pass those tests, he is seeded to face the steady Russian, Nikolay Davydenko, in the quarters.
Should both of them make it that far, the Djoker would face Fed in the semis. I don’t think I need to tell you who I favor; in case I do need to make it implicit, I’m putting my money on the man with the 8-4 career advantage.
Then again, Nole would have to defeat the mystifying Andy Roddick, who sizzled during Wimbledon but has curiously fizzled during the early portion of the hard court season.
I’m not going to give away who I’m predicting on that one. . .
I will now preview some of the key men’s players at the 2009 U.S. Open by comparing the gentlemen that I selected to wild beasts whose characteristics and skills show a remarkable resemblance to their human counterparts.
I did not use the top 10 (top 7, though).
Enjoy this unique trip through the men's draw, complete with my comparisons and predictions.
The legendary Kodiak brown bear, native to Kodiak Island in Alaska, is rivaled only by the polar bear as largest subspecies of bear.
It is a member of the Grizzly family, but is distinguished from other bears by it’s massive size (up to 2,200 pounds, or 1,000 kilograms) and a large mass of muscle running over its shoulders.
Don’t be fooled, though; it can run over 40 miles per hour (64 km/hr) for short bursts.
Čilić, 32-14 on the year, is one of the largest beasts on the ATP Tour, at an imposing 6’6”. He has a blistering serve, which he has pounded for an impressive 330 aces so far this year.
He’s a bit of a one-trick pony, however; if his serve is not clicking (and he has landed only 56 percent of his first serves this year), he is vulnerable.
I expect Čilić to have his best returns on grass, much as his countryman and idol, Goran Ivanišević. Čilić’s groundies lack the bite and consistency for him to be an all-court threat.
Though nimble for his size, it would be highly unlikely that he could ever be very proficient up at net.
Should he make it to the second week with his serve clicking, though, I can see him causing sleepless nights for his upcoming opponents, just as a Kodiak bear running loose would cause heightened concern for any sane person. . .
Prediction: Loss in straight sets to Andy Murray in the fourth Round
There is not a faster land animal in the world than the sleek, crafty cheetah. Natives of the vast expanses of Southern Africa, the majestic beast is built for speed.
The cheetah tops out somewhere around 75 MPH (120 km/hr), and goes from zero to 68 MPH (0-110 km/hr) in under three seconds...faster than most muscle cars of the world. Incredibly, it can maintain such speeds for distances of almost 500 meters, or 1,500 feet.
The cheetah makes up for its slender build by hunting expertly in twos or threes, with one cheetah tripping the prey, allowing the other(s) go for the killing blow on the stumbling target.
Monfils is similar, in that his speed allows him to retrieve balls that no one else on tour, not even Rafael Nadal, could ever dream of touching.
He goes from scrambling, defensive mode to offense in the blink of an eye, even at times when he appears to be at a distinct disadvantage.
He also generates an impressive pop on his serve, booming them up to 140 MPH (225 km/hr) and setting up quick one-two combinations for points. The serve trips his opponent up; his cat-like reflexes deliver the kill.
Prediction: Done in by his slightly slower, all-around better foe, Nadal, in Round Four
The tenacious crocodile is a most unusual species of reptile. They are the only known reptilian beast with the equivalent of a diaphragm which aids in respiration; a four-chambered heart; and a cerebral cortex to handle higher functions.
It is known in some circles as the perfect killing machine.
It is equally as deadly on land as it is in the water; it often scales swiftly out of a lake or a pond to gobble up prey that foolishly camped themselves too close to the beast’s watery habitat.
And though the creature looks clumsy or slow, nothing could be further from the truth; it’s blindingly fast for short runs and a most efficient killer with rows upon rows of razor sharp teeth.
Söderling is crocodilian in several ways. At 6’4”, he looks gangly and slow, but is a very dogged retriever from the baseline, and is known to venture to the net effectively on occasion.
Much like the croc’s comfort on both land and at sea, the Sod can burn the opposition from either wing, forehand or backhand.
When mated with his blazing serve, the Swede can be a match-up nightmare on most any surface, but especially the faster hard courts or grass.
Prediction: Soderling has faltered since his run at Roland Garros, and falls to American Sam Querrey in a Third Round upset.
One of the least-sighted of all the big cats, the jaguar is one of the most versatile animals on this planet.
It is large, strong, and speedy; hunts either during the day or (far more frequently) at night; and is equally adept in trees, on the ground, or even in the water.
Jaguars have been known to battle crocodiles in water and survive—or even win—the encounter, a distinction of tremendous note.
The jaguar, not the more celebrated lion or tiger, has the strongest bite of all the felines, allowing it to puncture the shells of turtles and pulverize the bones of 800-pound oxen.
If I had to select the most proficient hunter (less man, of course), I would tab the jaguar.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2007 ATP Tour Newcomer of the Year and Muhammed Ali lookalike, is the male tennis player whom I think is best suited to battle the Swiss Maestro, Roger Federer, and perhaps permanently dethrone him. Some day (not today).
Tsonga has a tremendous all-court game. He is equally adept at his surprisingly nimble net game for a man his size (6’2”, 200), and punishing the opposition from the baseline.
His strategy is built around constant attack, whether it be with heavy forehands from the baseline, a blistering down-the-line backhand, or his skillful net rushes, all ably supported by precise, robust serves.
He has the ability to win on any surface, though his clay court prowess needs more work.
With a solid 36-14 record this year, his electrifying demolition of Nadal at the 2008 AO (when he won 41-of-48 points on his first serve, and 57-of-76 on his serve overall), and his burgeoning all-around game, the seventh-seeded Tsonga has a bright future in the game.
Prediction: He avenges his countryman, Monfils, and ousts Nadal in the Quarterfinals but goes no further, falling to Murray in the Semifinals.
Few aquatic creatures are as large and aggressive as the Great White shark.
Made forever infamous by the series of Jaws movies of the mid-to-late 1970s, the Great White has been confirmed to grow to some 23-feet (7 meters) long, with unsubstantiated claims in the 36-foot (11 meters) range.
The massive killing machines can weigh up to two metric tons (4,400 pounds, or 2,000 kilograms).
The more they eat, the larger they grow, and sharks are incapable of sleep. That means they swim and eat, 24 hours a day, for their entire life span.
The Great White is known as an apex predator, or the top of it’s given food chain; it has few (if any) natural predators.
That describes the massive (6’6”, 182) del Potro pretty well.
Having ascended to the ranking of world No. 6, Delpo is very close to the top of the food chain. He has a stellar 2009 match record of 42-11, two titles (Washington and Auckland, both on outdoor hard courts), 399 aces (10th on tour), and one of the most feared weapons on tour (his brutal forehand).
The forehand is not as consistent as the backhand, however. It’s a risk-reward proposition with the Argentine; he loads up with the forehand and goes for broke, but the result is unpredictable. His backhand is rock-solid, as is his serve.
When Delpo is at his best, he sets up foes with his punishing serve and backhand strokes, then devours them with an unending barrage of offensive forehands. The fast track at Arthur Ashe Stadium should prove to be to his liking.
Prediction: Though Juan Martin has few foes who can hit with him, his match record against the five men ranked ahead of him is an anemic 4-13; take out his 3-0 edge over Andy Roddick and it shrinks to 1-13. The Scot, Murray, eliminates him in the Quarters
King of the Beasts, so known for the majestic, instantly recognizable mane carried by the male of the species, is one of the most revered creatures known to man.
Though the female of the pride typically does the hunting, the male is more than capable of foraging for himself. When he does, he demonstrates a strength, ferocity and dogged courage that few animals display.
Lions can track their prey for miles, and in bursts display power and speed that are startling. It is equally adept at felling a massive wildebeest and the lightning quick antelope.
The lion is also a most unusual wild creature in that it is easily the most social of the cats and travels in large communities. It also has a high tolerance for human interaction.
Isn’t that Andy Roddick all over again?
He has the single most-recognizable weapon in the men’s game: his sonic boom of a first serve, crashing in on his foe at speeds up to 150 miles per hour (241 km/hr).
There is no more awe-inspiring sound in all of sports than the percussive “thud” of a Roddick serve slamming into the grandstand barrier.
A-Rod also has a huge forehand, which he can flatten out and pull down the line on a pass, or which he can inside-out with devastating effect, whistling it crosscourt for a winner.
It’s no fluke that Roddick has a stellar 46-12 record (.7931 winning percentage) for 2009.
Roddick is still not as comfortable at net as, say, Federer or Tsonga, but his net rushes, when mated with a wicked, well-placed first serve, is an almost felonious combination.
It’s almost as if God created him for Wimbledon or the hard courts of the USO and Oz.
The best hope to restore the pride in American tennis is also a wonderfully social bloke, getting along well with the press and his peers alike.
He’s one of America’s most beloved and cherished athletes, and women everywhere swoon in his presence.
Prediction: I’ll tell you later!
Why a snake, you ask? Because the anaconda is far more than just another snake.
It’s a cunning, calculated hunter with an audacious, intrepid spirit, more than willing to mix it up with a caymen (a small breed of crocodile) in the water, or a leopard (a close relative of the jaguar) on dry ground.
The anaconda is not the fastest creature around, but it has been known to “mesmerize” its prey by fixing a haunting glare on them.
As the animal is caught in the life-or-death stare down, it might not realize when the huge reptile is in range.
The anaconda actually has a powerful set of jaws with multiple fangs; it grabs hold of its target, squeezes it in place, and begins coiling its massive, unbelievably strong body around the victim. There’s no way out; death by suffocation or internal bleeding is inevitable.
It’s similar with the Djoker; though all of his strokes are technically proficient, none of them (aside from a lethal first serve) are considered to be fearsome weapons.
But Novak can draw another player into a rally, with the other man knowing that the Serb will not rush the net, and out of nowhere, Novak has initiated a killing sequence.
Nole can take on Soderling the Croc on a grass track, or Tsonga the Jaguar on hard courts, or a clay court specialist on the dirt, and come out the winner.
He and Murray lead the circuit with their 53 match wins; his two tournament wins in ’09 (Belgrade on clay, Dubai on hard courts) and almost $13 million in career winnings mark him as formidable.
But this is not his year to take his first U.S. Open title.
Prediction: Falls to the Lion, Roddick, in the Quarterfinals
I know, I know, tennis purists are screaming that I did not select a bull, since Nadal is often called The Spanish Bull or just The Bull.
The comparison does not do Rafa justice like the silverback gorilla does.
The silverback is spoken of in hushed, almost reverential tones. It is known for it’s unrivaled power, even temperament (unless provoked), and almost human intellect.
Gorillas have mastered the concepts of community and government, social care (as silverbacks will often shepherd orphan gorillas), and the use of simple tools.
The silverback is the unquestioned center of their troop, making all decisions and generally setting the pace for the rest of the animals in his group.
He is jealous over his mates, and will fight vigorously to maintain his position should a younger male revolt.
Though herbivorous, gorillas can be violent if provoked.
How does this describe Nadal?
Much like the silverback, Nadal is revered throughout the world. People hold his physical accomplishments in the highest esteem, as his willful retrieval of balls that most humans would never chase makes him an almost mythical figure.
The rest of the tennis world seems to take it’s cues from Rafa, not Federer. It is the Mallorcan wonder who flits about in all circles.
Though not as accomplished with the press as Roddick, Nadal is a willing and refreshing interviewee, and he uses this tool to his advantage; it is difficult not to love Rafa.
On the court, the cunning that Nadal displays is often overlooked, as he is more than just a force of nature; he is an excellent strategist, as well, clearly playing for three or four strokes down the road.
His heavy topspin groundies bedevil many an opponent, as opposed to the flat, hard stuff that so many others employ.
Rafa, too, is peaceful yet competitive. Anyone who thinks that he is willing to sit idly by as Federer and Murray eclipse him is gravely mistaken. Don't forget leads the tour in winning percentage: Nadal (49-7, .8750).
Rafa’s back on the scene to fight for his number one position. But he won’t have a 2009 USO title as a springboard.
Prediction: Falls to Tsonga in a Quarterfinals upset
There’s not another animal on this planet to compare to man; it’s equally as true that not another tennis player in the world compares to Murray.
That’s truly a two-edged sword.
“The Thinker” is a massive, bronze and marble sculpture created by the turn-of-the-twentieth-century sculptor Auguste Rodin. It was commissioned by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, as part of a grand portal to the museum.
Drawing inspiration from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, “The Thinker” is literally sitting on top of the gates to hell, pondering the ramifications of his entry into the realm.
The contemplative pose has been regarded as the ultimate icon of intellectual activity virtually since the day it was unveiled in 1904. It is now the centerpiece of an entire museum dedicated to Rodin.
As for Murray, he is such a cerebral player that even when the observer cannot divine his precise intention, there is no doubt that his strategy is dictated by, not what is happening right now, but what will ultimately happen as a result of his actions and/or reactions.
Besides his play at the net, Murray has no weakness, as he has a sneaky-fast serve and superlative groundstrokes from either wing, backhand or forehand.
His superior ability as a strategist has led him to be tied atop the tour in 2009 match wins (53), against a mere 8 losses, and his winning percentage of .8689 (53-8) is only a shade behind Nadal’s ATP Tour-leading figure of .8750 (49-7).
However, like all other humans, sometimes Murray thinks too much. At crucial times, he seems to make the most mundane of mistakes. Is it a case of locking up because his mind is so busy that his body cannot simply do what he has trained it to do?
In addition to his title of BMNTWAM, Murray is probably the Best at Using His Talents, which makes the whole (of his game) greater than the sum of his parts.
That should lead him to victories in Slams someday; just not at the ’09 USO.
Prediction: A loss in the finals
WHAT?!?!? I hear the wails of derision that I selected a seemingly clumsy beast to parallel Roger Federer. And I want to assure you, this is no gag, nor is it intended as an insult to the Maestro.
Giraffes are stunning creatures, continually overlooked for their grace and athleticism. An adult male giraffe comes in at a height of some 17 feet (5.2 meters) tall, and taller in some extreme cases, yet it has only the same number of vertebrae (seven) as any other mammal. They weigh between about 1,800 to 4,300 pounds (800 to 1,900 kilograms).
Despite this, the giraffe can run at about 34 MPH (55 km/hr) for very short bursts.
Each giraffe has a unique pattern of spots on his coat.
The giraffe is just as at home grazing the wild grasses of the African bush as it is clipping tender shoots from the top of trees. The gentle giants are herbivores.
Don’t let this lead you to think that giraffes are frail and vulnerable to attack. The only beast in the world (besides man) which dares hunt a giraffe is the impetuous African lion. Even then, however, the giraffe is far from powerless.
A single kick from an adult giraffe can shatter the skull or break the spine of a stalking lion. This makes the giraffe a very difficult, dangerous potential victim. A lion can go from hunter to dead in short order.
So what does all of this have to do with Federer?
Well, like each individual giraffe, no one else can match the coat—accomplishments—of Federer. He towers far above the landscape.
Didn't everyone notice how Roger seemed to labor when Nadal replaced him at the top of the ATP rankings? It was a foreign, uncomfortable position for the Swiss to be in: the hunter.
Now that he is firmly ensconced at No. 1 again, Roger seems to be playing better than he has in quite some time.
He is the most versatile player in the world: he can beat you on the ground, from either back or forehand, and he can beat you in the air, with a sometimes underrated net game.
Anyone thinking he is a passive No. 1 with an easy target on his back will soon get a swift, devastating kick to the skull or spine that will debilitate the presumptuous interloper.
Don’t let his record against Murray and Nadal (3-6 and 7-13 respectively, 10-19 overall) fool you; he counters that with a back-breaking 27-6 against Nole and A-Rod. And besides all that, his pretenders knock one another off so much that Federer is often left to pick the bones of whomever is left—and he does so with clinical efficiency.
It won’t be quite enough at this year’s Open, however.
Prediction: Falls to eventual champion Andy Roddick in the Semifinals
So there you have it: my prediction is that fifth-seeded Andy Roddick will find a way to emerge from the pack and take the 2009 U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, defeating second-seeded Andy Murray in the Finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
He will defeat unranked Bjorn Phau of Germany and Dmitry Tursunov from Russia; 28th-seeded Victor Hanescu of Romania in Round 3; the 10th-seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the Fourth Round; the Serbian Anaconda, Djokovic, in the Quarterfinals; top-seeded Giraffe Federer, the Swiss Maestro, in the Semifinals; and finally, the Thinker, Andy Murray the Scot, in four taut sets in a somewhat anti-climatic final.
And if Roddick loses, I am not a jinx, and there’s no need to heckle me; predictions have never been my bag, and they only served as a clever excuse to compare some of the best tennis players in the world to wild beasts of the earth without being excoriated.
In that light, everyone wins! Viva la U.S.A., Andy Roddick, 2009 U.S. Open Champion!