Tennis

Once again, Federer is dominant force

Roger Federer (Getty Images)
Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates winning match point against Andy Murray of Britain in...
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Matt Cronin

Matt Cronin is a senior editor at Inside Tennis magazine and the co-owner of the award-winning TennisReporters.net.

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SAN JOSE, Calif.

Pete Sampras doubts that Roger Federer can win the calendar year Grand Slam this year but sees no reason why the Swiss can't stay on top of the game.

Sampras' fellow American, Taylor Dent, concurs and sees Federer — nearly flawless in his run to a 16th Grand Slam title in Australia — dominating the tour the rest of this year, which isn't common for 28-year-old players.

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“Who else is going to do it?” Dent told FOXSports.com at the San Jose SAP Open. “He's beating all the other favorites. He beat Andy Murray in Australia. Novak Djokovic is still up there but hasn't shown the consistency. Rafael Nadal was the only one who was really able to compete against him, but I don't feel he had the confidence that he did earlier last year and is having a little lull. To me, Juan Martin del Potro looked vulnerable in all his matches in Australia.

"No one has been able to do what Federer has when it comes to being so consistent. The rest of us have bad weeks, but when he plays a bad match, he's still a seven out of 10 and usually wins.”

While few in the tennis world were shocked that Federer managed to win another major, there was a fair amount of surprise how easily he did it, battering two young elite players in the semis and final — Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray. While the high-flying Frenchman Tsonga doesn't have enough of a well-rounded game to keep up with Federer, Murray does and came into the final with a 6-4 record against the Swiss. There he played passively until the mid portion of the third set in his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11) defeat, sending the 20 or so British scribes who were sent to cover his pre-ordained ascension home with their heads buried in Fred Perry reference books.

Before the contest, Murray appeared self-assured that he could weave his way past the Swiss, even mentioning Federer's mediocre record in five setters. But he largely played scared during the match, rarely going for huge shots off the ground or rushing the net like he did in his impressive wins over Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic.
Roger Federer (Getty Images)_20100209164320_JPG

Roger Federer has a real shot at the calendar year Grand Slam.WILLIAM WEST/AFP


As former Wimbledon champ Pat Cash said after the match, “Just hitting the ball back and forth hard isn't going to get it done against Federer. You have to mix it up and find a way to get short balls and take him out of (his) comfort zone. But that's not easy.”

No it's not, especially when Federer appears to have improved his weaker backhand side a great deal. He knows on what occasions he has to go on the offense quickly, while Murray and the rest of the young guns are still looking for what type of ammunition they should be loading on which hunting trip.

“Murray's natural game is to sit way behind the baseline and not miss and make you beat him,” Dent said. “To do it against Federer when he's executing his forehand, you end up doing a lot of running and losing a lot of points. It comes down to Federer's forehand and whether he's dictating and if he's not making errors off that side and spraying the ball, it's a tough match for Murray to win. He's just too good and it's all over.”

Sampras feels much the same way. While he likes Murray's potential, the 14-time Grand Slam champion saw plenty of up-and-comers fold in front of him. In major finals, Federer walks on court with an aura of invincibility and the weaponry to back it up.

For all his talent, Murray is still a pretender at the majors — and despite the contention by some of his fellow players and some of the press that he's held up remarkably well carrying the torch of long-suffering British tennis — he hasn't done so in the two Slam finals he's played, not managing to get a set off of Federer in either one. The Scot now must prove that he can calm himself in the big moments, just like Federer has been doing for the past six and half years.

“I just knew in (the Australian Open final) that Roger would really tighten things up and it was like target practice,” said Sampras, who fell to Fernando Verdasco in a San Jose exhibition Monday. “Andy wasn't offensive enough. You have to make it happen. Any time you give enough forehands to Roger he's going to hurt you. Andy can beat a lot off the players playing his way, but against someone like Roger, he's got to get out of his comfort zone and be more aggressive.”

Now Federer will once again pursue the calendar year Grand Slam, which in the latter stage of his career, seems like an impossible quest. But it's really not. The last man to win it, Aussie Rod Laver, took all four majors in 1969 at the age of 31.

Without question, the tour wasn't as deep then and the majors were only played on two different surfaces, grass and clay, but as Dent said, who is really going to challenge Federer on a consistent basis?

Nadal could if healthy, but he just suffered another knee injury and there's no telling when and if he'll be completely healthy again. The towering del Potro could too, but he's been nicked up since besting Federer at the U.S. Open and has been wildly inconsistent.

And the list goes on. Djokovic is an absolute mess at the majors, Russian Nikolay Davydenko went on an inexplicable walkabout against Federer at the Aussie Open, Andy Roddick is hurt again and has never shown himself capable of beating Federer at a Slam, Tsonga may not be cut out for the long haul at the majors and as talented as he is, Cilic is still a work in progress.

That leaves Roger with a decent chance to go around the block in 2010.

“Anything is possible, but it's not probable,” Sampras said. “The French is a big one and he's going to have to defend that against all these Nadals and Verdascos. Things need to fall into place — a great draw and great weather — but it's a tough hurdle. Wimbledon will be tough too, but Roger's a freak of nature.”



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