Roger Federer, emotionless and seemingly without a pulse, orchestrated a third set whose mastery was unmatched in any previous U.S. Open Semifinals. Playing worse than any time in memory, succumbing to Novak Djokovic in the second set, Federer rose from the dead providing just enough juice to get by with a break and bringing himself to a two set lead.
Normally, this would have been enough to catalyze him to another victory. Amazing as it was in this, one of the most poorly played matches in U.S. Open Semifinals history, Novak swept him 6-1 in a fourth set that defied reason or logic. Seeming to give up, Federer retreated into virtual hibernation.
Only to return in the fifth and final set and reach two break points that would have added a third mirror 7-5 set . Surely, with history beckoning, Federer would bring his best to those two points. And, while perhaps not his absolute best, he lost both points to the unseeing Djokovic who said he hit both smashing, deadly forehands into oblivion with his eyes closed.
After that, the time was gone for Federer. And Djokovic was in the Finals quicker than you could say "Goodbye, Mr. Chips!"
For sometime, the debate among tennis aficionados was whether Rafael Nadal was better than Federer. Had the twenty-nine year old Federer really been surpassed by the twenty-four year old Nadal? Was Nadal going to gain his Career Grand Slam at twenty-four, the youngest to do so in the Open Era? And would Federer block Nadal's way to gain his own record-breaking six U.S. Opens?
Early in the first set of Federer's match with Djokovic the answers came. Nadal was going to win the 2010 U.S. Open. No one is playing at his caliber of play. And no matter who won the right to meet Nadal in the Finals, neither would be sufficiently rested or talented to beat Nadal in the Finals.
It was a sad realization for many that Federer not only was the far less impressive player on the court Saturday despite his near victory against Djokovic, but was also that much farther below Nadal so that the outcome even against a rested Federer or Djokovic was inevitable. Nadal would win that match going away.
So it is that the best player in tennis will take to Arthur Ashe Stadium as if he owns it and the entire tennis world. A new and different talent has emerged. And that has brought us someone who, in Federer's lifetime, may exceed records that most felt were unattainable.
There has also been a change in the appearance and demeanor of Nadal. In the Semifinals, he dressed not all in black but in a bright yellow top that changed his appearance dramatically, softening his image and presenting something different. And he did much less scowling and delaying, choosing instead to appear more open-faced, less intimidating and more ingratiating.
We will see this demeanor change and appearance more and more frequently during the next few Grand Slams, as Nadal matures more and begins wearing "best in the world" if not "best ever" mantle more easily and diplomatically. Every "best in tennis" player gains his own personality as he or she advances more into the public eye and becomes the signature of the sport itself.
Let's all hope that this change does not in any way diminish the skills demonstrated by Nadal, as he continues to tinker with his game bringing it to new heights. For if he becomes more eloquent and brings his own world perspective into the game of tennis, his reign may even exceed that of so many others whose ambassadorships have left the game improved in many different ways.
We also hope that Federer is treated with the same respect given to Mr. Chips when he retired. It is a wonderful fact that we have known the man who was the very best who ever played tennis. We hope that his exit will be as graceful as his entrance. And that our memories of his presence will not dim as another, younger player gains his mantle as the best in tennis.