Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shanghai: No Surprise

Roger Federer Wins Third Tennis Masters Cup Title

No wonder Roger Federer preferred to play James Blake in the final over David Nalbandian, one of only two players to take a set from Roger at this event. Before play began, this is what I wrote in my preview:

If PR doesn’t redeem his end-of-year blemish in last year’s final and isn’t hoisting his third Masters Cup on November 19, I may have to stop writing for a week. And I’ve little doubt PR won’t hesitate to tell us just how fabulous he is, and just how unbelievably he played, and just how much he deserves his 12th title of 2006.

Well, this is what the Swiss World No. 1 said after his ruthless 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 destruction of James Blake in a final that seemed to go so fast, I got whiplash just watching it from the computer screen:

“It’s quite incredible. To finish off the season by winning the Masters Cup is really, for me. It’s obviously the perfect ending to an incredible season.

“There’s not much more I could have done. I gave myself the best possible chance basically at every event. To come out like this, on top, I surprised even myself.

“I had to laugh at one stage how well I was playing, I always came up with a great answer, you know. I was in control pretty much all the time.

“It’s quite surprising to come out and beat a fellow top 5 in the finals so convincing.

“Everything I wanted to do worked. To come to this point in my career where I feel so happy with my game, it’s come such a long way, you know, that I also am out of words really to describe this performance.”

Uh, no you’re not.

And Blake, true to form, responded in kind.

“I really appreciate the support — whether I’m playing well or being given a lesson by Roger. Roger is the best of the best, not only this week but maybe in the history of the game.

“I’m honored to be considered one of his colleagues. It’s so great watching him play.”

Which was exactly what you did. On the court. It’s honorable to be gracious in defeat and all that, but c’mon.

Blake was overwhelmed from the start and became utterly demoralized as he watched Roger’s 41 winners whiz by. Arguably the fastest man on tour, James found himself flat-footed and frozen in the midst of the blizzard. Yes, Roger is the best player in the world and does everything better than James, but to see James just standing there without even trying to chase down balls was mindboggling. This wasn’t an exhibition, but that’s exactly what it appeared to be.

And James was a voyeur.

Members of the Chinese crowd, who sat on the edges of their seats for every match of the event, so fully engaged they were in every point, collectively sighing and moaning and gasping and shrieking, were often eerily silent as Roger struck winner after winner into the corners, picking up balls off his feet and redirecting them down the line, up the line, wickedly angled, and over Blake’s head. Blake’s shots had so little pace on them tonight, they more times than not just sat right up for Federer to pummel. Roger’s backhand, to me, has become more of weapon than his forehand.

I couldn’t stop shaking my head.

In Blake’s defense, he had to be overwhelmed just by making the final, a commendable accomplishment on his debut appearance. Besides, there wasn’t a huge chance he’d be able to repeat what he produced against David Nalbandian. But I could always hope. Still, I have to wonder if his regard for Federer, which borders on cultic, also locked up his feet.

As for Roger: one does run out of superlatives to describe his best form. A message-board buddy said that the “FedBot” would take this final with ease while the real Roger would already be headed to Korea to play his exhibition against Rafael Nadal. I laughed when she put it that way, but lo and behold, there was something eerily prescient in her irreverent description — sometimes Roger doesn’t seem to be human out there.

Well, the fluid FedBot has just become the first player in history to earn more than $8 million in prize money in a single season, posting an incredible 92-5 record with 12 titles, and winning his 29th match in a row, the second longest winning-streak of his career. He also became the first player to win three season-ending championships since 7-time winner Pete Sampras, that other great champion to whom he’s often compared.

Roger Federer adds his name to an illustrious Honor Roll of tennis legends, including Sampras, who’ve all won at least three year-end titles: Ivan Lendl (5-time winner), Boris Becker (4-time winner), Ilie Nastase (4-time winner), and John McEnroe (3-time winner).

Enough said.

Fed Facts
Fed's Magic Numbers


savannah said...

Roger's quotes are scary Craig. No surprise the FedBot put in an expected appearance Craigy. For a player in his position he needs to tone the arrogance down a bit. He can say what he wants to MV and his team but the laughing at how well he was playing?
I'm catching hell over on TOB and MTF for saying Fed dodged a bullet and that the real final was last night's against Rafa. I also said that if that semi had been five sets something really special might have happened. Why are Fed fans so touchy?
You must get into NY next year and see the Open. If you had seen Blake play live especially that night match against Federer you would know why I said what I said.

Craig Hickman said...

Yes, savannah,there is something about seeing a match live that changes the perspective of things. Quite frankly, this result and Fed's comments are no surprise to me whatsoever, as I point out. I simply was HOPING beyond hope that there'd actually be a tennis match out there today, but to no avail.

And as for Federer's fans: well, we all have our blindspots, I suppose. PR was in full form as PR specialist after the match and I called that from the start. Again, I hoped I'd have been wrong, but that wasn't meant to be either.

I hope 2007 brings us better competition.

savannah said...

You asked about the father/son dynamic between Fed and Blake on espn. I couldn't answer fully there because it might cause a riot.
I think Blake has an inferiority complex when it comes to how he fits himself into the world he moves in. And yes, I think it has to do with his being bi racial and having come up in a mostly white environment. The only dark face you ever see in his box is that of his brother who supposedly was the one with the real talent and due to injury can't play.
I think he is so ruthless against Rafa because Rafa is a man of color who has attained great on court success at a very young age thanks to a very protective family and a killer instinct, something James never displays when his ass is on the line. His rolling over for Fed today was totally predictable. With Rafa he wants to prove something, that he can beat anyone who looks remotely like him.
I don't think you can separate Blake's on court persona from his racial ambivalence. Halle Berry's mother said flat out that she raised her daughter as a black woman not biracial because the world would see her as black. I have no idea what the Blake family dynamic is but I find it odd that none of them ever show up at his matches and if they do they're never identified.
If you, G_S and some of the others still posted regularly on that board I'd post this there. Right now all that would happen is that I'd be called names.

Craig Hickman said...

I think I wrote something similar about Blake after his US Open defeat to Federer. My comments weren't as pointed as yours, though, and I understand what you mean about that board.

Thanks for sharing your insights. Certainly is food for thought.

friend said...

is this blog like a anti-fed hang-out or something? i mean what do you expect fed to say? " yea, it was a very competitive match, i was lucky to win this one?" he said things as they are..... there was not 1 single moment once the game started when there was even a zillionth of a chance fed was losing this match.....

savannah, that same match u refer to in the US open, could u c only 1 half of the court? i mean if u saw how fed was playing you would have realised he was nowhere in "The Zone" and still, all that a blake playing out of his skin managed was to push the game to 4sets..... today fed was in the zone..... the kind of zone in which he can bagel intense competitors like agassi,hewitt, rafa, roddick, safin or nalbandian..... blake never had a chance.....

and how come the players on the tour and all the ex-players who comment about the game cant c this arrogance u c? maybe coz u have never liked fed? fed is definitely not humble..... but he is definitely not arrogant too..... he gives credit where it is due, there was no way blake deserved any credit for today's efforts. point out a game to me where fed denied the efforts of his opponent when the match was competitive.....

and remember modesty is no virtue, it is as much of a vice as boasting is..... you lie in both cases..... fed just knows he is extra-special..... what is wrong with that? the idea that a genius does not realise how good he is at whatever he does, makes no sense...... it is like einstein should speak sweet candy coated words about some professor in harvard who has no clue what the significance of general theory of relativity is.....
and while we are at it..... there is no santa, mom just told u that coz that was the only way you would be a well-behaved kid.....

Craig Hickman said...

friend, I appreciate your comments. Well-stated.

But we all see what we see. No one's vision, while it may or may not be clearer than anyone else's, it, nonetheless, is no more or less valid than anyone else's.

I do believe that false modesty is as much a lie as is false pride. I don't think for one second that Fed's statements are untrue, nor do I think he doesn't believe them. He has every right to say whatever he wants about himself or anybody else, quite frankly.

And we all have a right to comment upon them.

Thanks for stopping by.

bogledance said...

friend, The commentators regularly have to reassure people that Federer is really a very nice guy when they read off some of his quotes. They will say something like "I know this sounds cocky or arrogant, but Federer is really the nicest guy in person." Why do they have to do this? Because his comments are cocky and arrogant and they know how they sound.

He's obnoxious the way he talks about himself. It's one thing to say "I played great and I'm happy to win" it's another to go on about how you were making yourself laugh with your amazing play and marvelling at your own greatness. How can anyone not find that arrogant? It's so narcissistic I could barf.

bogledance said...

Savannah you make some interesting points. After James' weirdo Agassi tribute costume thing at the US Open I do wonder about his psyche, and his need for a superior to honor in his field. Would James even ENJOY tennis if he were the one on top dominating? I'm not sure.

brooklyn1006 said...

bogle: lol!! I don't think Blake is that tormented, but I do think he needs to discover his innner macho. But, I think fans have to accept James is the way he is. The guy is not likely to change. He still has his childhood coach, for chrissakes. To me, the saddest part about Blake is that he was shocked to make it into the Championships, he was shocked to make it to the final match, and that's exactly how we all felt. Now there's something not right with that picture.

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone here looking to find more in Blake than what is there? He's a top three hardcourt player. Nothing more. Due to the weak pool in which Fed swims James has backpedaled to the top. He's a good player. But Blake will never win a Major. He'd only see the final weekend in New York.

Just as Blake's (and Berdych's) raw power troubles Nadal, Federer eats up James' (and Tomas') power game. You have to beat Federer with some sort of variety. Blake just banging from the baseline amuses FedEx.

Roddick has had two very good serving days against Federer and in both cases he probably should've won. Andy is steady enough from the baseline and is able to mix in net play to challenge Roger when he's playing well.

Even in his old age Agassi was good enough from the back to push Roger. But a straight hitter like Blake doesn't stand a chance.

I'm not smart enough to go into the racial dynamics of his personality, but James has never had mental strength on the court. He's a late bloomer in the tennis world who's still plagued by a "It's a Wonderful Life" mentality. Meaning, he knows this is a great ride and therefor is seperated from it at times.

Federer is just a great player. Best ever? Impossible to tell, and pointless to, with different eras of players, and technology.

Roger will continue to laugh at his success for the next year, while young guys like Gasquet, Murray, Bagdahtis and Mofils mature and learn to become winners on court.

Nadal is already there. He's slumping, but the kid is just 20. I thought the French/Wimbledon duel tired both players out. Nadal was spent for the year, and Roger wisely scheduled a light summer and allowed himself time to work his way into the Open. But he also has five years on Nadal.

Nadal remains Federer's greatest rival and threat to beat him on all surfaces. As Rafa matures it'll be interesting to see if he can make the necessary changes to adapt on a hard court. From 20-23 guys like Agassi and Hewitt say it was Federer's serve and backhand that steered him around a corner and into the player he is today. Likewise, Nadal's serve has to become a bigger weapon. And much like Roddick he has to step into service returns and crack replies.

As great as Fed is, I think it does speak to his era that we're remarking of his two rivals about a shared need to return serve capably and step into the court.

Or maybe, we should just hope '07 is the year the French Genius turns from boy to man.

Anonymous said...

A couple more notes.

1) Craig, no Sharapova/Golvin on WTA best match of the year? Shame. ;)

2) Who do you think pound for pound is the best shot maker on tour? The easy answer is Federer. But, how can you not say Gasquet? Like Fed at the same age he's almost bored/frustrated by what he can do out there. Best ball striker on tour. PEROID.

3) Fed's comments are hard to stomach. A friend was over to watch Football yesterday and we caught the tail end of the Blake match. He had to laugh at Roger's reaction after winning. "Why is he acting like he's crying? He just rolled Blake up and smoked him like a Cuban."

Maybe it's just Federer's smile. It can range from boyish to smug. Perhaps it's all perception.

From wearing the dinner jacket on court in England to his "i'm surprised i just kicked this guy's ass today" comments, Federer teeters on the edge of being too much. But, in his defense his peers to a man all say he's stand up. And, to his credit when he loses or is pushed to the end he's often very gracious. See comments after the Roddick win. He often says he was lucky to win after a close match.



friend said...


like i said in my earlier comment, did you at any point in the match ever feel blake was even going to have a realistic chance of winning atleast a set? fed does not make those comments every day. really, y do we want a great person to show false modesty? if he was arrogant, how come none of his colleagues feels it? i mean, all the 200 players on the tour can't be saints who will let an "obnoxious" person demean them , right?

anyone who is a genius at the thing they do, cannot be not aware of how good they are. given that, anyone who is that good, and comes and tells you that they are not amazed by how good they are is just lying.

if you do not mind, could you tell me what is the greatest thing you have accomplished so far? if you are anything like the rest of us, we can safely say we have never even brushed the edges of being a genius..... and if you are in anyway human, there should be quite a few instances when you found something ridiculously easy. now imagine how easy the thing you do for a living might feel to the person who is the very best in your field. so do you expect that person not to tell you the truth that he would laugh at how easy he found it or do you expect him to lie to you that it was a good challenge for him?

roger federer has made an insanely competitive game like pro men's tennis a joke in the last few years. the best 10 tennis players on the planet, with the exception of nadal, find it insanely tough to even win a set off him. and blake has won one set in 6meetings with him..... given all this, if you expect him to just tell you that he played only a great game every time he wins, means that you want him to lie about what the actual truth of the matter is. why do you want someone who is an inspiration to so many people to be so self-conceited?

and could you show me some article or proof that blake found that comment insulting or offending? dont you think he would be more put off by this obnoxious or arrogant comment than a spectator like you or me?

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed looking at the match. Blake could have done much better.

Craig Hickman said...


I didn't include any matches that ended in retirement. Had I, I may have included Tati/Pova, but I'd also have include Mauresmo beating Henin-Hardenne so bad in Melbourne, she forced her to quit.

I'm still not sold on Richard Gasquet and you know that. Shotmaking means diddly if you can't bring it when it matters most. Had he opened his match against Hewitt the way he finished it, he might have won it straights, but, alas....

And to friend: Sure, Federer can be gracious and analytical and say all the right things, giving opponents credit where credit is due. But he can also (appear) to play mind games and be very calculating with his statements, especially when it comes to Rafa. Roger IS charming, no two ways about it. But he loves to toot his own horn, and his comments after the final are just as I expected them to be. There are some things that are better left unsaid, especially when speaking to the press. Roger doesn't seem to grasp that concept and unless or until he does, his narcissistic remarks will be called out for being exactly what they are.

We all have flaws. Roger Federer is no exception, despite what his disciples say.