When I was a kid, my dad introduced me to tennis. He took me to see Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, the best players of the time. In his day and for quite some time after, Laver was considered the greatest to have ever played the sport with Rosewall a close runner up.
Later, I got hooked on tennis again when Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl were the kings of the court. They were all fantastic tennis players, but unlike watching Laver, none of the new leaders of tennis seemed like they were the one. Then, of course, came Pete Sampras. With 64 career titles, 14 of them being Grand Slam wins, he was the one. He made the game seem easy with graceful moves and unreal court presence. His game was a thing of beauty and a blast to watch. Andre Agassi, a great tennis player, was always a thorn in Sampras’ side and perhaps even made him better. But it was Sampras who was the best most often at the end of the match.
Sampras ruled over his tennis kingdom for some time, long enough to convince the tennis experts and those of us who are mere onlookers that he was, in fact, greater than the great Rod Laver. We had a new best. Like with us all, though, he eventually got a little older and a little slower and had trouble keeping his place on top of the pyramid.
As Sampras’ rule at the top of the heap waned, Roger Federer became the new king. In a world with many good tennis players (Nadal, Blake, Roddick, Hewitt and a boatload of guys from Slavic countries to name a few), Federer has handily remained in the number one position in tennis for more time than anyone in history.
This year, at the just completed US Open, he showed why. Federer was always composed and always in command. That’s not to say that he was always in the lead. Even when his serve was broken, though, he would patiently break back to get even, then either break his opponent again or dominate the tie-breaker. At times, he did this without seeming to break a sweat. He covers the court unbelievably well, rarely makes unforced errors and is always menacing to his opponents (earning him the moniker, Darth Federer).
When he played the hard hitting Andy Roddick in the semifinals, I watched in disbelief as Roddick, playing the best tennis of his life and having a serve and forehand like a cannon, lost to the tennis god, Federer, in three straight sets. In the finals, Novak Djokovic had Federer down a break with three set points in the first set and then succumbed to Federer in a tie-breaker. In the second set, he broke Federer early and looked very strong, only to lose the set to Federer again in another tie-breaker. Federer won the third set 6-4 for his fourth straight US Open victory and 12th Grand Slam win.
As with Tiger Woods’ dominance in golf, Federer has so many weapons in his arsenal that he’s almost impossible to beat. Even when he’s down, he has the skills, stamina and mental toughness to come back and win . . . convincingly. As if there could have been any doubt before, we are certainly watching the new greatest tennis player of all time rising to his zenith.