Tracy Austin: Roger's unbeatable blend of beauty and beastly power
Sunday 03 July 2005
If, all of a sudden, he wants to crank it up 20 per cent, he just pulls it out of his arsenal. It all seems so easy to him, and so bewildering to everyone else who would like to be like him.
Roger is such a complete player, for me the most enjoyable player I have ever watched. I have heard that Lew Hoad was a beautiful player but I never saw him. As for Roger, I could sit all day and just watch him rally. He is a phenomenal striker of the ball, with beauty and flair.
When you watch Federer play there are so many points and shots where you just say to yourself, 'Wow, how did he come up with that winner?' Most people don't have the variety and choices to make those shots. And if they do try, they aren't going to make it on a consistent basis. So eye-catching are Federer's winners that not enough mention is made of his defensive skills and how quick he is.
In Friday's semi-final, Hewitt had to go for the extra shot all the time. Against Roger, you think you have hit a winner and the ball comes back. Then you tend to start overplaying, because you have to try for so much. Sometimes you think he can't possibly get out of a point, but somehow he finds a way. He has pace, the finesse to handle other people's power, and soft hands.
So is Federer the best tennis player of all time, as a lot of people are claiming? Well, for a start his serve is not as big as Pete Sampras's for sheer power, but he places it so well and with such great variety. Also his groundstrokes are more solid than Pete's, especially on the backhand side.
Sampras won Wimbledon seven times and Federer has only won it twice so far, yet there is already this "greatest-ever" talk. He is only 23, yet it is worth remembering that such things were being said about him even two years ago.
Why? Because he is an unbelievably magical talent who seems to be able to raise the level of his tennis whenever he needs to. There are other pluses, too. He handles pressure well, he handles the media well and he handles the fans well. No wonder the supporters, and a lot of the media, think so much of him. OK, he gets angry on court a few times, but the expectation from everyone is that he will win easily in every match, and he seems to handle that expectation too. If you contrast the two defending Wimbledon champions, Maria Sharapova always seems about to explode, while Roger seems so at ease.
With Sampras, you knew that every year when the clay-court season rolled around he would struggle. To a lesser extent, and surprisingly since it is his "home" surface in Switzerland, Roger considers it his least favourite surface. He was beaten at the French Open last year and this summer by two opponents, Gustavo Kuerten and Rafael Nadal, who used the same tactic, high-bouncing shots to his backhand.
Federer's coach, Tony Roche, who is so knowledgeable, counts the French as his only Grand Slam success as a player, so he will be working hard to try to ensure that Roger wins all four majors, either, like Rod Laver and Donald Budge did, in a calendar year, or over a period of time, like Andre Agassi and Fred Perry. You could always expect to see Sampras struggling, but Federer has the capability to win the French.
As for Wimbledon, just who can get his measure? In last year's final, it was 1-1 in sets and Andy Roddick was 4-2 up in the third, hitting the heck out of the ball, serving monster serves. But it is difficult for anybody to keep that up for three sets, never mind the best of five.
I haven't seen anyone else on the men's tour with the same flair and consistency as Federer. The Moroccan Hicham Arazi has the same artistry, and is gorgeous to watch, but consistency is not the name of his game. It is the combination of these talents that makes Roger so magnificent.
Take aspects of other people's game, like Hewitt's toughness and speed. Roger has got that, too. He is a better volleyer than most, nor does he seem to tire. I wouldn't know where to break him down. You just have to hope to get him on a bad day. And even then, you need to play the best match of your life.
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