You don’t have to like tennis to appreciate Roger Federer.
If you’re a sports fan, you should be a Federer fan.
As he closed out pesky Juan Martin Del Potro today in the 5th set of the French Open semi-finals, I sent super-producer Glenn Clark a simple text message that summed up Federer’s winning effort: The dude has big balls.
There will be some who throw out the “he didn’t have to beat Nadal…so (if) a win at this year’s French isn’t as credible as it would have been had he had to go through Rafa to claim the title.” OK, I’m not in total disagreement with that, given that I’m the same guy who said last summer that Padraig Harrington’s two ’08 major titles (British* and PGA*) won’t carry the same weight – historically speaking – because Tiger Woods wasn’t available to compete due to injury.
That said, should Federer go on to triumph at Roland Garros on Sunday in the Final, it will mark the completion of his career Grand Slam and get the largest of large monkeys off his back — a clay court major title. And he will have done it by battling back from the near-dead against Tommy Haas in the Round of 16 (2 sets down before rallying to win in 5) and skirting danger and elimination today by rebounding from a 2-1 set deficit against the ever-improving Del Potro. Speaking of Juan Martin, he’s the next Rafa. Watch out for him, for sure.
In other words, Federer’s rise to the Final hasn’t come easy. In fact, it’s getting more and more apparent that Roger’s “easy road” is now more like an unpaved rocky path that requires diligent focus to navigate. At age 27, Federer’s no longer a spring chicken in tennis years and, it’s safe to say, while he might win a few more majors in his career, they won’t come as sweatless as they did earlier this decade.
I’m pulling for him in a big way on Sunday. His opponent, Swede Robin Soderling, is an upstart who sent Nadal packing a week ago and helped smooth the way for Federer to reach the championship match and, perhaps, secure his 14th career major. Should Roger triumph over Soderling, it not only ties him with Pete Sampras for the all-time high in major titles, but it also gives him two great chances in ’09 to surpass the American…at either Wimbledon in four weeks – or Flushing Meadows later on this summer.
Should Soderling win on Sunday, it could mark Federer’s last “major” opportunity to cash in at Roland Garros. He’s not a step slower or anything like that, but these days it requires a bit of a perfect storm for Roger to compete at the French. He needs an extra helping of heart, a fortunate bounce or two and a bracket that gets jumbled by an upset and early departure of guys like Nadal. This year, he got all three of those and mixed it with some great tennis of his own.
We’ve seen very few athletes over the last 20 years with the heart – and soul – for epic performances like Roger Federer.
You don’t even have to like tennis to appreciate him.
Speaking of Tiger Woods, the world’s #1 golfer went back to looking like a solid 6-handicap today with a second round 74 at Muirfield Village in Ohio. That will delight the Anti-Tiger Club, who were no doubt dismayed yesterday when he buzzed around the always-tough layout in 69 shots in seeking his 4th title at The Memorial. Woods, though, is looking more and more like he’s rounding into form, which is a good thing with the U.S. Open three weekends away. He’s driving the ball much better (a must at Bethpage) and he appears to have finally found a driver he likes. I always found it interesting – and downright puzzling, actually – that the greatest player in the game, with all of the technology available in the world to him, couldn’t find the right shaft-driver head combo to fit his swing and game. By putting a 10 degree driver in play, Woods looks to be hitting the ball higher off the tee and isn’t as susceptible to the quick hook or low “snipe” right, as he calls it.
It’s good to see a couple of familiar names sniffing around the leaderboard at Muirfield. Ernie Els and Chris DiMarco, neither of whom have done very much in the last few years, are both 4 under-par and well in contention heading into the weekend. Els has never really wanted to be great…he’s always been satisfied with just being really good. But you can’t win many tournaments – at least not important ones – only being “really good” and Els has recently divulged that he’s back to taking his game seriously and wants to take another run at Tiger and the world’s #1 spot. Hey, everyone has to dream a little, right? DiMarco, meanwhile, was (is) the classic underachiever who would rather eat a golf ball than lose. He’s been bothered by a bad shoulder since 2007, but says he’s feeling 100% these days and his -4 total through two rounds at The Memorial might back up that claim. If Tiger can’t win, I’d really LOVE to see DiMarco capture this tournament on Sunday.
And last but not least, a rainy day visit to a local CD shop paid off in a big way this afternoon when I scored a brand new copy of Little Feat’s “Waiting for Columbus” for just $8.99. That was one of my favorite albums growing up and I haven’t heard the whole thing start to finish in 15 years at least. If you haven’t heard Lowell George belt out “Mercenary Territory”, you haven’t lived much, dare I say.
Have a great weekend. Stay dry. Or, rather, GET dry.