Federer no less confident heading to U.S. Open
NEW YORK – Riding in a car a few days before the start of the 2010 U.S. Open, Roger Federer was discussing the state of his game during a telephone interview when he suddenly interjected a warning.
“Just so you know, I’m going through the Midtown Tunnel here,” Federer said, “so if we get cut off, I’ll call you back, OK?”
Which illustrated two traits: The guy is exceedingly polite – and he knows his way around New York quite well. The latter quality might result from so many extended stays in the Big Apple over the years, sticking around long enough to reach every men’s final at Flushing Meadows since 2004.
If there have been questions raised in recent months about where Federer’s career is headed, there is at least one person who is adamant that it’s far too soon to write him off.
You guessed it: Federer himself.
“As high as my confidence has been the last few years,” Federer said in an interview with The Associated Press, “I don’t feel like I’m any less confident.”
When the U.S. Open begins Monday, Rafael Nadal will try to complete a career Grand Slam, Andy Murray will seek his first major title and Novak Djokovic his second, and Andy Roddick will aim to end an American drought.
And Federer? He gets a chance to show that reports of his demise are premature, and that he still possesses the on-court qualities that let him lord over tennis for so long: the slick movement, the sublime forehand, and the pinpoint serve on display in that popular is-it-real-or-fake YouTube video.
“Rafa, Murray and Djokovic are all looking good, too, so I think it’s going to be a U.S. Open with multiple favorites,” Federer said. “But I guess I’m one of the big ones or bigger ones – if not the biggest one – because of my history here over the last six years, making the final each year.”
That run includes five U.S. Open championships, part of his record haul of 16 Grand Slam titles. It also helped Federer accumulate semifinals-or-better showings at a record 23 consecutive major tournaments, a streak that ended with a quarterfinal loss at this year’s French Open.
Another quarterfinal exit followed a month later at Wimbledon, where Federer has won six titles. While many players would be satisfied or even thrilled to reach the quarterfinals at two Grand Slam tournaments in a row, the world has come to expect so much more from Federer.
“I’m sure he’s highly motivated to kind of get it right after what, for him, are disappointing Grand Slam results – and for other people are very good Grand Slam results,” said Roddick, whose 2003 U.S. Open victory was the last major title for a U.S. man.
That pair of early-for-him exits by Federer, plus a six-month title drought, plus a brief slip to No. 3 in the rankings for the first time since 2003 (he’s now back up to No. 2, behind Nadal), plus his age (he turned 29 on Aug. 8), led some to wonder whether he would ever win another Grand Slam title.
Others simply shrugged.
“He’s human, even though he was making results that didn’t seem human the last five, six years,” said Djokovic, whose only losses at the past three U.S. Opens came against Federer, in the 2007 final and the 2008-09 semifinals. “It just proves there’s a lot of players now coming up and not being scared anymore to play their best in the important matches.”
Federer has heard negative talk before.
In 2008, he went through a stretch of – what?! – three Grand Slam tournaments without taking a title, losing to Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals, then Nadal in the French Open and Wimbledon finals. Fans began sending Federer letters of support and even instructional DVDs to help the cause.
How silly did Federer make that all seem? First, he won that year’s U.S. Open. Then, in 2009, he captured his first French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Pete Sampras’ mark of 14 major titles. And to cap the “comeback,” he regained his Wimbledon championship for record-breaking No. 15.
“You can never count him out. It seems like every time someone says he’s having a down year or a bad time in his career, he just comes right back and wins two or three Grand Slams in a row,” said Mardy Fish, who lost to Federer in the final of a hard-court tournament in Cincinnati a week ago and is seeded 19th at the U.S. Open. “And there’s really no reason he can’t do that again. He’s the best player to ever play. He’ll go down, in my opinion, with at least two or three more Slams.”
Federer certainly agrees with that assessment.
“I obviously believe I can still win many Slams … but I don’t have a target I’m chasing, because I go tournament by tournament,” said Federer, who beat Murray in the Australian Open final in January. “As long as I’m fit and healthy, I know I can win more Slams.”
After losing to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon, Federer said his leg and back had been bothering him since before the tournament. Now, though, he feels well, thanks in part to rest and relaxation during a nearly two-week vacation by the Mediterranean Sea with his wife and 1-year-old twin daughters.
As he put it: “No problems; no aches and pains; no issues.”
That’s no small feat in tennis these days. The man who put an end to Federer’s 40-match U.S. Open winning streak in last year’s final, Juan Martin del Potro, is not defending the title because he’s still recovering from wrist surgery in May. The No. 1-ranked woman, Serena Williams, is skipping a tournament she’s won three times, citing surgery to repair cuts on her foot that she’s never fully explained. Two-time champion Justine Henin is done for the year with an elbow injury.
The list goes on. Defending women’s champion Kim Clijsters says acupuncture helped her get over a left hip problem that bothered her this month. Maria Sharapova, who won the 2006 U.S. Open, pulled out of a tuneup tournament with a bad foot after having to deal with shoulder surgery and an elbow injury in recent years.
“Injuries will always be a part of any sport. We play a lot of tournaments. You play a lot of matches if you do well. You have different surfaces, which is great about tennis, but on the bodies, for the players, it’s not always that easy,” Clijsters said. “Jet lag, different surfaces, different balls – it’s not always that easy.”
All of which makes it that much more impressive that this U.S. Open will be Federer’s 44th major tournament in a row, the most among active men.
Roddick, to cite one example, is competing in his 10th consecutive major championship. Nadal’s playing in his fifth straight.
“That was a conscious decision when I became No. 1 back in 2004, that I wasn’t going to overplay, and I think it’s because of that plan that I’m still here,” Federer said. “It goes without saying I wasn’t at 100 percent every single Slam I played.”
That said, he issued something of a caution to present critics and future opponents.
“Everybody should know,” Federer said, “what I’m capable of doing when I’m in good form.”
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