Superhuman Federer soars above his mere mortal rivals

OTHER VOICES

The Kickoff

September 12, 2006|By BILL DWYRE | BILL DWYRE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK — The time has come for tennis to redo its game. It needs to offer separate singles titles for men, women and Martians with four arms and three legs. The Martians would get to play against Roger Federer.

That, of course, assumes that four arms and three legs would be enough. It also assumes that, like those from other planets, Federer is not human, which is becoming a certainty.

A mortal named Andy Roddick threw his best stuff at Federer on Sunday, in the final of the U.S. Open, and lost in four sets. At best, in the middle of the match, Roddick made Federer uncomfortable. On the ATP Tour these days, that's like a victory.

In his seven matches in the two weeks here, Federer lost sets only to Americans James Blake, stoked by a night-session New York crowd in the quarterfinals, and Roddick, stoked by a coach in the legendary and fiery Jimmy Connors and an ever-present serve that can dent the front door at Fort Knox.

These days on the tour, that's as good as it gets. It is now a men's tour of Federer and a bunch of other guys playing for spots in the semifinals.

This was his fourth Grand Slam final of the year and his third win. If he had been able to master Rafael Nadal and the mud ball they play at Roland Garros in the French Open, a tournament where the guy with the most dust on his socks at the end wins, he would have had the Grand Slam of tennis, all four majors in a calendar year. Rod Laver has done that twice, Fred Perry once and nobody else.

Stay tuned.

"I know I can win the French," said Federer, not one given to exaggeration.

This was his ninth major title. In four years. Pete Sampras leads with 14 in 13 years, and at the time he achieved his 14th by winning the 2002 U.S. Open, it seemed like a Joe DiMaggio record. Now, even Sampras is conceding it is a matter of when, not if. The only players ahead of Federer on the major-title list are Bill Tilden with 10, Bjorn Borg and Laver with 11, Roy Emerson with 12 and Sampras.

Federer's victory here was also a tennis version of the triple double. He became the first men's player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same three years.

He won $1.2 million for the U.S. Open title and should probably donate it to the ATP Tour for use in counseling other players. They could form a foundation and call it the Federer Couch.

He is so good, there are no longer adjectives that work. The superlatives fall short. When he loses, and it has only been a handful of times in the past few years, it is front-page sports news. In Switzerland, front page of the paper.

If Federer were human, he would have felt the pressure of nearly 24,000 U.S. fans pulling for Roddick in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and he would have cracked when Roddick won the second set and had him down three break points at 2-2 of the third set.

Instead, he said, "I like getting goose bumps walking out on center court and serving for the match. These are the moments you dream for."

If Federer were human, he would stumble over his words, do something silly or not always say the right things during the post-match ceremony that gives fans a look at players' personalities.

Instead, he took the microphone, made sure to congratulate Roddick on having a great summer and let the fans know he appreciated their buying tickets, showing up and supporting his sport. Then, he put the trophy over his head and didn't even knock the lid off.

If Federer were human, he'd be an ordinary interview, humorless and babbling on like so many of his counterparts about backhands and forehands and missed chances.

Instead, knowing he had kept the media waiting a little longer than normal while he was down the hall, chatting with his fellow superhero and Nike pitchman Tiger Woods, who showed up to watch so they could meet for the first time and further the Nike brand on national TV, he started his news conference with: "Thanks for the patience. ... [Having] a little putting contest, yeah."

Later, when asked if the cap he was wearing was the same white one with a Swoosh that Tiger wore when he sat courtside, Federer said it wasn't. "I tried to get it," he said, laughing. "He didn't even want to sign it for me."

If Federer were human, the best players in the game would not be so resigned to the obvious, or so inclined, when pushed, to say it.

"Roger is at the top, and he's the only person at the top, regardless of how much people want to make rivalry comparisons or this, that and the other," Roddick said. "He's the best in the game. There's no question in my mind, or if you ask any player about that."

If Federer were human, the door might get stuck once in a while in that phone booth where he changes into his work clothes. One of the other players might try stringing his racket with kryptonite.

But he's not human. So that leaves it up to the four-armed, three-legged Martians. And once they finish negotiations with Nike, Federer will be toast. Bill Dwyre writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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