Sunday, August 30, 2009

What else is left for 'Fed' to prove?

You wonder whether Roger Federer, the world No. 1, has the stomach for the grind that will be the U.S. Open.

His season has already been wildly successful. He’s conquered a demon: the slow red clay of Paris; he’s recaptured the glory on the hallowed grass at Wimbledon when he bested Andy Roddick in an unforgettable Finals, and he’s marched on toward the kind of greatness few men in any sport have ever achieved.

On Monday, Federer returns to New York City to perform on the largest theater in men’s tennis. He’s already earned the affection of crowds in Flushing Meadows. They adore him, as tennis fans elsewhere do. They’ll root for "Fed" to repeat, cheering on the Swiss star, a five-time winner here, as they’ve cheered on Americans like Connors and Ashe and Agassi and Sampras in Grand Slam yesteryear.

All had much to prove as they stood on the U.S. Open courts and prepared to slug it out with competitors who longed to win the year's final Grand Slam to put a signature on their tennis seasons.

Federer doesn’t need a signature on this season. For aside from the Australian Open in January, he’s won all the tournaments that matter. He’s beaten Rafael Nadal on clay, though not on the red clay of Roland Garros. But it wasn’t Federer’s fault he didn’t. A gimpy Nadal didn’t make the Finals there, perhaps opening the way for Federer to claim the only Grand Slam that had eluded him.

His trophy case is filled with more than Grand Slam glory. He has awards that he’s won from every corner of the tennis universe. His bank account is flush with cash, richer than he could have imagined. He’s happily married now, the father of newborn girls.

And he’s No. 1 again, ahead of the extraordinarily gifted Nadel – the lone player who has dared to challenge the Federer supremacy in men’s tennis.

On the first day of the U.S. Open, Federer will show up with no tennis worlds left to conquer. To say he’s playing for pride, as clich├ęd as that statement is, would be accurate.

But if he must play for something else, then play for the crowds that worship him. Give them what might be the last great moment in a career of great moments. In a young man’s game, the old pro Federer might not have many great moments left in his brilliant forehand. 


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