Monday, June 21, 2010

Catching Falla

Now that he's caught tricky Columbian Alejandro Falla, can Federer catch Fire against the rest of the Wimbledon field?

Roger Federer should sleep with one eye open.

Because unlike his heyday at Wimbledon, when he was winning five consecutive titles and compiling an unprecedented sixty-five match winning streak on grass, players now believe that he is beatable. Even on this hallowed grass court that has seen him crowned as king on six occasions, his competitors are rebelliously taking aim at him. They are chewing their tobacco and spitting, loading and cocking their weapons, and obstinately firing away.

Where they used to cower in fear, they now strike in passion. Where they used to hesitate and stumble, they now relentlessly attack.

Nobody on the planet can imagine what it's like to be Roger Federer. Facing a revolving carousel of world-class players who are hell-bent to prove to the world that they too can play at that mind-boggling level, even if they can't sustain it for years on end the way Federer has. Facing player after player, each of them on a mission to play that one magical match - the one that will be etched into the lore of the sport for eons - Federer must dig in and resist with all his might.

Alejandro Falla isn't the first to play such out-of-his-head tennis against Roger Federer, and he certainly won't be the last. And it isn't the first time that Federer has overcome such brilliance from his opponent - and no, it surely won't be the last.

Yet, even though Federer survived - god only knows how - today, one gets the feeling that more and more of these impassioned renegades are going to break through, until finally, that fateful moment will come, and the mystique will be gone. Woe will be us when it happens, but it will happen, for it is the law of nature. Either that or he'll pull a Borg and just disappear from the ranks of the competing, which doesn't seem very likely with Roger.

But that moment isn't here yet. With his mom and pop dressed to the nines courtside, Roger summoned a few heaping spoonfuls of the old Federer magic, and finally sent his latest assailant packing.

The thought of Federer losing a first round match at Wimbledon was so preposterous that, well, nobody even thought that it was a possibility. But here's the thing: There's only so much dominant tennis that a man can play, even a man who practically wrote the book on domination, like Federer has.

Federer, in the back of his mind, must be aware of this too. He'll be twenty-nine in August, he's got two kids and a wife to distract him, and whether he likes it or not, his brain will never be as devoted as it once was to the singular purpose of being a tennis champion.

Think of Federer's magic as a well of water. Whether he knows it or not, the well only holds a finite amount of water. Early in his career Federer went to this well often. We know that. He went to it for discipline and inspiration. How else would he have sculpted such a miraculous game? He went to it for desire and for the will to prepare for battle. How else did he achieve such power on such a lithe, dexterous frame? He went to it for fortitude and belief. How else would he have developed that determination and focus that made him so much better than his opponents?

But now we are finding that the well of magic, like the wells of similar players from bygone eras, is finite.

I'm sure that Federer knows the well is not full like it used to be, so he probably goes into a match against a player like Falla, whom he has never lost to, and whom he has pulverized twice in the last month, without bothering to use a drop of that special water.

He's hoping that he can just coast. He's hoping that he can save the magic for a match when he really needs it.

But when we watch Federer spend nearly three sets before he starts making any decent returns against a guy who he has shellacked so regularly in the past, it makes you wonder just what the future holds for him.

It's hard to excel at this game without making huge sacrifices. Consequently, it's hard to make those huge sacrifices when you're old in tennis terms, and you've got more of your brain devoted to your family and less of it devoted to winning matches, which can probably seem pretty insignificant to Roger at times when he really gets down to it.

When you're not the hunter, you're the hunted. I'm sure Federer believes that he wants this seventh Wimbledon as bad as he wanted the last six. But does he really? If you watched him wiggle his way out of his first-round affair with Alejandro Falla today, you probably are wondering the same thing.

As much as he wants a good nights sleep tonight, Roger might be better off of his twins keep him up all night. At this stage of his career, Federer needs to get out of bed with an edge. He can still be the world's best player, but not if he isn't hungry.


  1. Upsets are most common in the first round. Sometimes an athlete just needs to clear all the engines out, and subsequently performance improves. Perhaps he was over rested going into first round?

  2. I think this is exactly the pressure that Federer needed to find his confidence. As much as it continues to prove that he's vulnerable, it's got to give Fed a ton of confidence proving to himself he can go down two sets and come back, he can overcome bad play.

    Three set matches make a huge difference for Federer. Even when he doesn't do well for one set, or two for that matter, he can find a way to shift the momentum back in his favor.

  3. I agree with both you guys - Fed likes to play his way into form these days. He doesn't play as many matches as he used to, so a five-setter (one that puts the fear of god in him as well) might be the recipe for him to play with a little more urgency going forward.


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