who believed that Roger Federer’s days in the winner’s circle at major
championships had come to an end — no names, please — the events of Monday
evening (the first Monday final since 1987) were a revelation. He had substantial help from
Andy Murray, to be sure, as the Scotsman first knocked out Rafael Nadal and then
failed to rise to the occasion in the final. But Federer was Federer again, and
it was a pleasure to see. It was also a treat to sit in
Monday, September 8, 2008
Men’s Singles, Final, Ashe
Roger Federer (2) d. Andy Murray (6), 6-2 7-5 6-2
There’s not much to add to a point-by-point blog posted by the New York Times, so I’ll try to focus on what was unique from my perspective before recalling some of the crucial points of the match. First, it was a treat to see the match with my Cousin Ira, who has accompanied me on tennis jaunts over the years at Flushing Meadows and points north.
Ira and I tended to adopt some of the lesser-known players. We saw the journeyman Daniel Vacek lose at the US Open to Justin Gimelstob (in a five-setter in the second round in 1999) and to Vincent Spadea (in a four-setter in the first round in 1996).
In New Haven in 1998, we saw Pete Sampras mail one in against Leander Paes, leaving the doubles specialist with a career 1-0 record against the player who accumulated the most major titles ever (at least as of this writing). The same day, we saw Tim Henman beat Davide Sanguinetti in their first meeting. The two were to play three times, and each time Henman came back from losing the first set. We also saw an unlikely but well-earned win for Guillaume Raoux over Patrick Rafter (punctuated by Raoux’s complaint about the noise from someone bouncing a basketball behind the court) and the eventual champion Karol Kucera’s closely contested win over Jan Siemerink. After match point, Kucera hit a ball into the stands in celebration. Ira caught it as a souvenir, which it remained until his young nephew bounced it enough that the ink identifying the ball wore off.
In Newport in 2001, we saw Martin Damm cruise past Irakli Labadze, who slipped and slid on the grass, mimicking a skier as he complained about the surface. (Labadze must have liked grass better in 1998, when he made the junior Wimbledon final, losing to a guy named Federer.) Our program that day featured a surprise win for Glenn Weiner over Andre Sa, who looked (but did not exactly play) like a young Pete Sampras.
Ira’s first US Open final, and my third. In 1976, I was a pup (relatively speaking) when Jimmy
Connors disappointed me by defeating Bjorn Borg on the Har-Tru of
The pre-match festivities included Harry Connick, Jr. singing America the Beautiful while a color guard unfurled an oversized American flag over the court, as well as an F-15 flyover with the planes appearing from out of nowhere before streaking above us. The stands were probably about half-filled at the 5:00 p.m. start, with the court entirely in the shadows and the lights on. By the time the match ended, the stands were at least 90% full.
prospects of Scotsmen playing tennis provided an easy laugh for
Monty Python, Andy Murray has changed that. He’s filled out, gotten into shape
(despite what looked like a nasty bruise, or perhaps a birthmark, on his right
calf), and plays a clever game that is difficult to dismantle. Against Federer,
he stayed with one tactic he had used against Nadal, standing far behind the
baseline to receive the first serve. On almost every occasion in which he had a
choice, he kept the ball to Federer’s backhand. It was not a bad idea, but it
didn’t work, because Federer played superb defense, often slicing his backhand
to keep it low, waiting patiently for the chance to scoot to his left and hit a
forehand. When that opportunity came on a short ball,
Federer earned his first break point in the fourth game of the match, and converted one for a 4-2 lead in the sixth. He broke again in the eighth game to complete a 6-2 stroll through the first set.
set was much tighter and proved decisive. Federer won 36 points to
served at 5-5, he went up 30-0, but he failed to come to net after lobbing over
Murray, and the Scotsman eventually worked his way back into the point and won
it. Federer then shanked a backhand for 30-30, but he stopped the bleeding right
there and held for 6-5. After the changeover, the old Federer came back onto the
court, the one who could always kick his engine into another gear when he needed
it. He opened the game with a beautifully placed forehand approach that proved
an outright winner. A backhand volley brought him to 0-30. Federer chipped and
Donald Trump appeared in his box for the third set. He watched the match stoically, almost motionless. He must have practice sitting for portraits.
I don’t expect we’ll ever again see the Federer who would win three majors in a good year and two in an off season. I don’t think he’ll ever win the French Open. He’s not young anymore, and the competition now is too good. But can he squeeze out two more majors to surpass Sampras before he hangs up his racquet? Put me down for a cautiously optimistic yes.