Federer: Who's Your Daddy?

Saturday, March 03, 2012 /by

Picby Pete Bodo

He's getting to be like the guy who's still dancing with a lampshade on his head and crying, "Whoo-hooo!" while everyone else is played out and leaving the party.

Or like the ex-boyfriend who just won't go away—and just may end up marrying the fickle beauty who once dumped him. It may not be a very dignified way to describe Roger Federer, but for the great champions it isn't really about dignity, not primarily, anyway. It's about you know what. It's about winning.

And Federer has been doing an awful lot of that recently.

In fact, he's won 33 of his last 35 matches since he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, and that was a match in which he was twice one swing away from advancing to meet Rafael Nadal in the final. The only matches Federer has lost since then were to Nadal in the semis of the Australian Open, and John Isner of the USA in a Davis Cup tie. The title he won today in Dubai (d. Andy Murray, 7-5, 6-4) is his fifth during that run.

Okay, that's the cue for all the haters to emerge from under the mossy stone bridge to brag about what No. 2 Nadal would have done to Federer, had he bothered to enter Dubai. Or for No. 1 Djokovic's partisans to shrug and claim their man just had one of those bad days when he lost in the semis to Murray.

Fair enough, but if nothing else it's downright mean-spirited not to tip your hat to Federer, the 30-plus year old, 16-time Grand Slam singles champion and father of twins. These days, when Federer says, "Who's your daddy?" he's not just talking to his little girls. He's also addressing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Martin del Potro, Murray, and the rest of them.

"There is no substitute to confidence," No. 3 Federer told the press after his creative demolition of Andy. "I've played great (lately)."

This title is not quite up there with Federer's win last November at the ATP World Tour Finals, but it eclipses those other three tournament wins he's had since last fall—and by a significant margin. The field in Dubai was loaded—only Nadal and clay dog David Ferrer were MIA among Top 10 players. And let's be honest about this: Federer has needed to show that he can beat one of the other Big Four (Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray) in a single-elimination tournament final—something he hadn't done until today since the fall of 2010 on his home turf, Basel (d. Djokovic).

As impressive—and aggressive—as Murray was against Djokovic in the semis, Federer de-fanged him in the trophy match. Taking advantage of the premium a fast hard court puts on quick-strike tennis, and employing the versatility that can keep an opponent off-balance on so quick a surface, Federer taught Murray a valuable lesson—the faster the court, the tougher it is to play great defense, and to make that critical transition from defense to offense. If you can't pull that one off, you might as well improve your odds by going off and finding a clay-court tournament somewhere.

A guy of Federer's age just isn't supposed to hogtie a rangy 24-year-old the way Federer did Murray—aren't the reflexes the first thing to go as you get older? What The Mighty Fed been doing on the court is nothing short of remarkable, and if Nadal or Djokovic want to do something about it, they can just show up opposite Federer in the draw.

Which they are likely to do, soon enough.

"It's not just that I've taken my chances," Federer mused today. "I really thought I played a good tournament here. . . That gives me hope that I can carry it over to Indian Wells and Miami."

Hmmmmm. . . it seems that a number of people might be thinking along the same lines.

Dubai has found a cozy niche on the calendar as the prelude to the two massive Masters 1000 events in the U.S., and the scorekeepers among you will remember that last year, Federer lost in the California desert to Djokovic, and in Miami to Nadal. Both matches were semis; Federer pushed Djokovic to three sets in Indian Wells, but he played perhaps the worst match of his career in that semifinal loss to Nadal—that is, if you can call standing flat-footed and waving the racquet in the general direction of the ball for about an hour "playing."

Very little has been heard from Nadal in recent weeks; rumor has it that he's working on a plan to take down his nemesis, Djokovic, after which he'll take over the world from a command center on a starship now orbiting the earth disguised as a team Babolat Peugot mini-van. Rumor also has it that Djokovic is a tired puppy, and has been overheard asking his coach, Marian Vajda, "Tell me again, why do I have to win every one of these tournaments again when I won them all last year?"

But just as Djokovic remains a huge problem for Nadal, Federer must rank as a major headache for Djokovic. Since the start of 2010, their head-to-head is 5-5, and they've played a lot of very close matches. Their games match up nicely, but not as predictably as either man's dovetails—for good or ill—with the game of Nadal.

Rumor also has it that Federer is already aboard a private jet heading for Delray Beach, where he plans to challenge the winner of tomorrow's final to play a "quick one," just for the heck of it, before they all head off to California. Who knew being 30 could be so much fun? Whooo-hooo!

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