Is 2014 a changing of guard?

For several years, tennis has witnessed the same names as champions in both the men's and women's games. Since the beginning of 2014, however, things have started changing. These are often gradual but we are now beginning to see newer names emerge in the late rounds of majors. Is this the waning of powers in some of the great champs or the increasing capabilities of the new bunch? Or both?

Take the case of Eugenie Bouchard, a former top-ranked junior who has rapidly ascended the rankings ladder in the WTA world. She had some great wins in Australia, culminating in a maiden 'Slam semi-final appearance. She followed that up with a semi appearance at the French Open and capped it all with a Wimbledon finals appearance. Or take the case of Dominika Cibulkova, for long a dangerous opponent who seemingly didn't quite have it in her to go deep in the majors. She too had a great run in Australia. Of course, she ended up losing to Li Na, who is a renowned champ with a previous 'Slam win under her belt. Still, it felt like new names were showing up at the late stage of a major. Of course, the biggest breakthrough and upset was when Stan Wawrinka beat Nadal to win the tournament.  A monumental achievement, given the stranglehold of the Big 4 on the majors. And when we moved to the French Open, more names like Halep and Gulbis made waves and earned accolades. The events that took place at Wimbledon where Nadal and Murray fell fairly early and, instead, we had the likes of Raonic, Dimitrov, and Kyrgios knocking out the big guns were sure signs that things were changing. Serena had not won a 'Slam yet in the women's. 

To top it all, the stunning success of Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori at the US Open is the final triumph of the newcomers. It doesn't mean the current champs like Djokovic, Nadal, etc. are going to start dropping like flies. But these younger players are increasingly more assertive, confident and mature. The results are there and we can expect more of the same in 2015. For the first time in many years, 4 different men and 4 different women won 'Slams, two of them for the first time and several first-time finalists as well. Quite a feat. Tennis is getting exciting once again. 

Rating the greatest male tennis players

This is one analysis of male tennis players in the Open era and their performance in majors. Longevity, consistency and titles are awarded. This is not so much of an analysis of match-ups. I leave it for others to do that. It would appear that the 80s appeared to have a great diversity of players with great results but the distribution was well-spread. The current era of Big Four dominance is still playing out and records will likely tumble before too long.

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Why tennis needs teams

The sport of professional tennis needs a complete overhaul. It has to stop being this year-long traveling circus if the game is to develop in many parts of the world and gain popularity. Here’s what I think ails the sport and what I think can be done to fix it.

Tennis players often lead lonely lives. Especially if you’re a journeyman (or journey-woman). Most male players are scrounging around for hotel and travel money as they play the Futures or Challengers circuit. Even those that manage to make it to the top-level ATP circuit, life starts getting better only if you are in the top 120 or so, whether it is the ATP or the WTA. Players have to make their own hotel and travel bookings, buy their own gear, plan their schedule and, above all, play their matches! Play matches with hardly anyone around that knows you, no coaches allowed during matches, just trying to sort out how to play and win matches on your own. I often see youngsters in my local club playing USTA tournaments and completely freezing up when playing the match. It is not that they don’t have shots; it is just the mental side of the game that is often so tough to deal with.

Leander Paes of India talks about the time when he was a rookie, just a young kid playing the circuit. He would often call home to his parents in Calcutta literally in tears about how tough life was. I bet it became easier for him when he started playing doubles. At least there was someone else to share problems with, someone else to talk to about life’s issues. Singles tennis can be a lonely place. The WTA has change the rules to allow players to get coaching help during matches. But that’s only if you are high enough, or rich enough, to afford a coach or a parent acting as coach, to help you.

Tennis needs to become a team sport. At various levels of the game. From the top tier players all the way down to regional and even city-based players. In order to do this, however, there needs to be a team of strong-willed individuals willing to take on the existing setup of tournament organizers, sponsors and federation officials. Witness the way both the ATP and WTA just about tolerate Billie Jean King’s Word Team Tennis (WTT) by squeezing it during the US summer within a few weeks. WTT tries to make it work but it hardly has a fan following besides the die-hard tennis followers. It is really the red-haired stepchild of world tennis. And it’s not really growing.

It’s not going to be easy to create a setup similar to, let us say, the NFL or England’s Premier League in football (soccer for us Yanks!) or India’s IPL in cricket. But what this would do is build teams that can be managed and coached, players who won’t have to face the world on their own, money from sponsors (local, regional, national, or multinational) to foot the bills for teams. If teams could play multiple local circuits of team events and then progress to a regional level, not unlike the way Junior Team Tennis (JTT) works in the US, it could be very successful. JTT does tinker with some of the rules of scoring. You don’t necessarily have to win matches or sets to make it count — just winning a few games in a match adds to the tally. But more could be done here such as allowing substitutions, no lets, no deuces, etc., to make matches more intriguing and tighter.

Tennis today seems more like the sport of boxing, minus some of the sleazier aspects of the latter. Boxing has promoters, so does tennis. Boxing events are run by big-time money, so are tennis events that require tournament owners like Larry Ellison or Ion Tiriac to make it profitable. Top players are openly offered appearance money and guarantees if they would commit to playing a particular tournament for a few years (Federer says he has “agreed” to play for the rest of his career at the Garry Weber tournament in Halle). If this were a league, would tournaments have to do this sort of thing? No. Admittedly, attracting spectators to sporting events requires the draw of marquee names. But imagine a French tennis circuit where top players play for their teams which could comprise, Nadal, Tsonga, and the Brian brothers! In one team! And this wouldn’t be some hit and giggle kind of tennis exhibition, these would be real matches, played to win titles and prize money.

I think this can be done. Question is who is willing to do it and where do we start. As a sport, tennis could be so much more than it is today. It could have a far greater reach across the world if more kids started playing it as a team sport rather than as a individuals. I think we need to make this happen.

Young 'uns learnin'

"Come on James, well played!!". That's me yelling encouragement to my son James. Over the past 6 years, I have been involved in getting my now 11-year old son learn the game of tennis. Starting with him picking up a racket for the first time, not knowing which one was his stronger arm and several other early stage matters, he has been learning tennis continuously these past 5 years. He started out in tennis because I probably encouraged him (strongly) to take it up as a sport. Being a typical American kid, he is very drawn to football. Strangely, a lot of kids in his school hint to him that tennis is a sport for girls! That's a common theme I hear and it hurts to hear that. Perhaps these kids that are being told this ought to ask their parents if they ever played tennis. I am sure it would change their minds if they were to try a cardio tennis class!! At the risk of going off on a tangent, I would submit that Americans tend to pursue sports like NFL football, ice hockey and basketball because their kids can be successful at an "American" sport. Additionally, it also plays to a somewhat passive-aggressive mentality. Football, hockey, etc. often glorify physical injury, fights, leading with the helmet as a weapon. Perhaps they ought to go to boxing. Oh wait, that's taken over mostly by Latinos and under-privileged African-Americans!!

The USA could do with more grassroots tennis coaching. For years, the US had gotten used to having several top 10 tennis players around. From the Connors and McEnroe years of the late 70s and early 80s to the golden era of the 90s that included Sampras, Agassi, Courier and others. An early warning was sounded in the 80s when the top players were European (Becker, Edberg, Wilander, Lendl). Even the 90s had players like Ivanisevic and Guga Kuerten. But our administrators just sat on their butts and thought the US would be a never-ending conveyor belt of tennis talent. Just like the West Indies thought that great cricketers would never be in short supply. Of course, the US has a significant advantage compared to Windies in that there is a lot of money here, recessions notwithstanding. We need this to be channeled better and the USTA has done a fairly good job. I wish they would get more funds allocated to elementary and middle schools so courts can be made available at an early age. How come most schools can allocate space for a basketball court and even a football/soccer ground but nothing for tennis? Wake up USTA! The world is leaving us behind.

I enjoy it when the kids play Junior Team Tennis. It's a team environment, fosters camaraderie and relationships, and is good fun all around. JTT should be promoted much more vigorously by USTA.

Our local tennis club, Culpeper Sport and Racquet Club, just won the tennis facility of the year in our region. It provides covered clay courts, has a great program with high quality USTA coaches (George, Dena, Kevin) and has a great pool of talent in all age groups. This is great. I just wish more such facilities were available for kids to learn tennis.

Who changes tennis?

These days we frequently hear players complaining that the game has changed, courts are slower, balls are heavier (or lighter), etc. Tennis writers and commentators often refer to this anonymous, unnamed set of people that is apparently tweaking the game constantly. It led me to wonder who these people are. Here are my thoughts around this.

Tennis as a sport has undergone quite a few changes over the last 4 or 5 decades. The advent of professional tennis, the introduction of the tie-breaker, allowing players to wear non-white clothing, the switch from white tennis balls to yellow. Barring the tie-breaker, not much has changed in the basic way in which the game has been played, at least in the main events like the 'Slams, Davis Cup, ATP events and WTA events. But the sport's administrators are constantly tweaking with the game to, presumably, heighten spectator appeal. Take, for instance, the introduction of the tie-breaker. Thanks to James Van Allen, the introduction of the tie-breaker in the early 70s was probably driven by various motives. But I believe it was most likely due to the fact that tennis needed to gain a TV audience which was not going to be available if matches went on forever. Particularly in the USA, most sports are structured such that there are timely breaks for TV commercials to be played. Likewise, the need for matches to end within a "reasonable" time period. Tie-breakers allow for that to happen. Even with the deuce scoring system in tie-breakers, they cannot go on seemingly forever like the Isner-Mahut match at Wimbledon in 2010. TV coverage leads to a sport's popularity, not to mention big bucks for event organizers. Most TV coverage of sport is predicated on each game starting or ending within a defined time frame.

But apart from TV ratings, the powers that be also want to make the game more "exciting". We see changes in court speeds, lighter (or heavier) balls, new types of clay (blue anyone??). Now excitement is quite subjective. Granted, long rallies with exciting shots, feats of athleticism, and power of shots lend to some aspects of excitement. But there are other ways a player can make tennis exciting. Serve-and-volley, all-court tennis, and tactical finesse all add to the charm of the sport. But, for some reason, the primary way tournaments want to make the sport exciting is by creating more opportunities for long rallies on similar types of surfaces.

The ongoing Madrid tournament is a prime example of an experiment gone a bit awry. I think Ion Tiriac and gang really only wanted a blue colored clay surface. But it turns out that all sorts of other problems - the fact that the underlying surface has to be relaid each year, the blue coloring causing the clay to be more slick, etc. - have cropped up. Given the fact that a number of top players are complaining about this surface, it is fair to say that the "powers that be" are the ATP / WTA management and tournament organizers. It also appears that, at times, players are poorly represented during the process of tournament allocation, surface changes, etc. Players like Nadal and Djokovic have complained bitterly about the Madrid surface. Others like Azarenka from the WTA side have complained as well. The net result of all these tweaks is that most tournaments play slow or slower these days, in order to make the matches more engrossing. No more Sampras vs. Ivanisevic types of matches at Wimbledon where the serve rules the roost. In fact, the changes to the surface at Wimbledon have been far more dramatic, particularly in the last 4-5 years. By the second week, it almost plays like a clay court as it sheds a major portion of the grass due to wear and tear. Some hard courts, like in Cincinnatti, are faster, slicker hard courts and many players moan and groan when they have to play on it. Most of the recent champions have been better at faster courts and, therefore, Nadal has not even made it to the finals yet. Djokovic has reached the finals a couple of times but, although arguably, a better hard court player than Nadal, even he prefers a medium-paced surface like they find in places like the Australian Open or Miami.

To conclude, have all these changes to court surfaces and ball weights really helped tennis? We see long matches, often punctuated by that other problem emerging in our current era - delays between points. But players are taking advantage of whatever the rules say and how they are interpreted by officials, in order to gain the maximum possible advantage. We are seeing that tennis has gained tremendous athletes with great tennis skills, but also lost out on many other aspects that prevailed in past decades. Grips have changed, players shoot from the baseline, move incredibly fast behind the baseline and can cover a huge amount of court. But we are also seeing fewer variations in playing styles and fewer specialists. Clay courts play like slower hard courts, players slide on hard courts (Djokovic) and, barring some monster servers like Isner and Raonic, even the big serve has been somewhat nullified. Roddick won his only 'Slam in 2003. Even he can probably attest to the fact that all the tweaks and changes he has made to his game have largely been because his two big weapons - serve and a big forehand - were being nullified. Nullified due to players becoming more savvy when playing him but also because his big shots did not appear that big any more. This is not meant as a post in support of Roddick (or Federer) or against Nadal or Djokovic. However, something needs to be done by the ATP management to create more varied surfaces and create a wider variety for the tennis fans. Since 2006, only 4 players have Grand Slam titles. It is an amazing period in tennis history of utter dominance by a few players. But it is also testament to the fact that, great as these current champions are, the surfaces have made it easier for their styles of play and win.

US Open Series 2010 - Notes

I'm watching the Murray-Fish quarter-finals match as I write this. I can see how hot it is out there. But I am beginning to wonder about several things that happen during these summer events leading up to the US Open:

1. Player Fatigue - Real or Fake?

Murray's taken a break or two, is holding his knee, limping and also tells the doctor he's not feeling good. I kind of feel bad for him since he played a real tough match yesterday against Gulbis. That point about scheduling is addressed later in this article. But I wonder if Murray has begun to do all of this so he can get his opponent off kilter. Clearly Murray's feeling fine now in the 3rd set which is about to go into the tie-breaker. Besides, Murray's whining and cursing is such a lousy attitude. Last year I thought the kid had grown up and become mature. Now that his various handlers are no longer there, he's back to his petulant self.

2. Injuries

First it was Isner, then Istomin, and then Kohlschreiber. The hot weather and the hard cement surfaces are taking quite a toll on the men. This is unfortunate because all those players are fun to watch and people certainly have high hopes for Isner in the US Open. Now we are told he is looking for some kind of "miracle" cure to give himself a chance of playing the Open. And we also had injuries to Sharapova and Ivanovic earlier. This land of Cincinnatus isn't proving to be good for all these players.

3. Match Scheduling

Why is it that they don't switch around the schedules for some of the players given that these guys leave it all out there for 3 hard sets? And how about giving some players a break from playing in the heat? Federer is so lucky both in Toronto where he played hard-fought matches but at night, and, of course, in Cincy, where he's cruised to the quarters by playing just 7 games.

4. Time Wasting

Murray kept complaining about Fish's apparent time wasting. And Fish was really taking his time and totally looking bemused to find that Murray was ready to serve. Brad Gilbert and Patrick McEnroe were talking about having a shot clock on court and I definitely think it should be implemented. Just like in basketball. Of course, how it gets implemented is problematic. After all, someone will have to push the button at the end of a point to make sure the clock starts ticking. But this whole time wasting by guys like Nadal, Djokovic and others is making a mockery of tennis.

5. Tossing Towels to/at Ballboys and Ballgirls

Finally, what's with the guys tossing the towel back to the ballboys and girls? Some even toss it at them. My wife pointed out that Mardy Fish was downright rude as he simply flung his towel somewhere which was like dropping it at the feet and expecting your ball"servant" to pick it up. Come on guys, please give some respect to one group on the court that is always on its toes and super helpful. Murray, the ever cursing kid around court, is actually quite courteous in the way he tosses his towel back. C'mon guys, make some eye contact with the kids and if you must, please, please toss the towel back TO them, not AT them.

Federer's Incredible Run

Two weeks ago (okay, make that 3 now!) I picked up the book, The Rivals, from my town library. This is a pretty good read about the awesome rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Among the many records and tennis details mentioned in the book, one stood out. Between her debut Grand Slam tournament in, the US Open in 1971, and her 1983 appearance at Wimbledon, Chris Evert reached a record 34 successive semi-finals of every 'Slam she played in. Admittedly, she missed a few owing to injuries and other issues. But that is an unbelievable feat. We can also say that women's tennis, particularly in the early days of the WTA, was not quite as competitive as it is today. And certainly, by past and current standards, the men's ATP tour has always had far more depth of talent. Still, this is an unbelievable record. Which also makes us look back in amazement at Roger Federer's 23 semi-final record.

Now that Federer has clearly lost his mojo and lost in the quarter-finals of consecutive Grand Slams, it would be worthwhile looking at the man's record 23 successive semi-finals appearances in Grand Slams. Here's a list starting with his 2004 Wimbledon win which is when he started his record run.

Wimbledon 2004

  1. Alex Bogdanovic - 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 
  2. Alejandro Falla - 6-1, 6-2, 6-0
  3. Thomas Johansson - 6-3, 6-4, 6-3
  4. Ivo Karlovic - 6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5)
  5. Lleyton Hewitt - 6-1, 6-7 (1), 6-0, 6-4
  6. Sebastien Grosjean - 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (6)
  7. Andy Roddick - 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 6-4

Federer did one of his escape acts and the rain delay stopped Roddick's momentum. I still think, though, that Roddick was too raw to beat Federer. As we can see however, M/s Falla and Hewitt made appearances in a long sequence of Slam defeats at the hands of Federer. In particular, Hewitt's defeat was like a turning point since he had won the title in 2002 and seemed like he could beat Fed.

US Open 2004

  1. Albert Costa - 7-5, 6-2, 6-4
  2. Marcos Baghtatis - 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-1
  3. Fabrice Santoro - 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 (7)
  4. Andrei Pavel - walk/over
  5. Andre Agassi - 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3
  6. Tim Henman - 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
  7. Lleyton Hewitt - 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-0

By now, Fed had completely figured out Hewitt and this was a slaughter. Fabrice Santoro played Fed (one of several Slam encounters during Fed's 23-semis run). Agassi took him the distance on a day when the winds were howling like a hurricane. 

Australian Open 2005

  1. Fabrice Santoro - 6-1, 6-1, 6-2
  2. Takao Suzuki - 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
  3. Jarko Nieminen - 6-3, 5-2 (R)
  4. Marcos Baghdatis - 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (4)
  5. Andre Agassi - 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
  6. Marat Safin - 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 7-9

Don't know if Fed ever wonders why he hit that grandstanding 'tweener on  match point. This shot is the lowest percentage shot of all and for him to hit it at match point smacked of arrogance and he paid for it. 

French Open 2005

  1. Dudi Sela - 6-1, 6-4, 6-0
  2. Nicholas Almagro - 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-2
  3. Fernando Gonzalez - 7-6, 7-5 (9), 6-2
  4. Carlos Moya - 6-1, 6-4, 6-3
  5. Victor Hanescu - 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-3
  6. Rafael Nadal - 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6

Fed still thought he had a chance against Nadal. This new kid on the block was a tough customer but eventually, Fed (and his legion of fans including your's truly) thought he would get the kid's measure. How wrong were!

Wimbledon 2005

  1. Paul-Henri Mathieu - 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
  2. Ivo Minar - 6-4, 6-4, 6-1
  3. Nicolas Kiefer - 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 7-5
  4. Juan-Carlos Ferrero - 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (6)
  5. Fernando Gonzalez - 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (2)
  6. Lleyton Hewitt - 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4)
  7. Andy Roddick - 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-4

Roddick was outclassed in the finals. Yet again, Hewitt met Fed and lost. Around this time, Hewitt was still ranked high enough and playing well to meet Fed in the later rounds. 

US Open 2005

  1. Ivo Minar - 6-1, 6-1, 6-1
  2. Fabrice Santoro - 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (2)
  3. Olivier Rochus - 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-2
  4. Nicolas Kiefer - 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4
  5. David Nalbandian - 6-2, 6-4, 6-1
  6. Lleyton Hewitt - 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3
  7. Andre Agassi - 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1

Tougher matches against Agassi and Hewitt. Agassi had the upper hand for much of the 3rd set but lost the 'breaker and then Fed did his usual front-running in the 4th. 

Australian Open 2006

  1. Denis Istomin - 6-2, 6-3, 6-2
  2. Florian Mayer - 6-1, 6-4, 6-0
  3. Max Mirnyi - 6-3, 6-4, 6-3
  4. Tommy Haas - 6-4, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2
  5. Nikolay Davydenko - 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5)
  6. Nicolas Kiefer - 6-3, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2
  7. Marcos Baghdatis - 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2

Haas' game always bothered Federer and this one was no different. Haas almost came back to steal the match. Baghdatis played great for a set-and-a-half but then faded. I remember Kiefer's contentious and dubious tactics against Grosjean in the previous round. Tennis players like Kiefer and Gonzalez (at the 2008 Olympics against Blake) should go to a special confessional for their sins! For those who think Federer cries only after he loses, remember this one? He couldn't stop crying and "Rocket" Rod Laver had to console the guy for winning! Fed's an equal opportunity crier, isn't he?

French Open 2006

  1. Diego Hartfield - 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-2
  2. Alejandro Falla - 6-1, 6-4, 6-3
  3. Nicolas Massu - 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-5
  4. Tomas Berdych - 6-3, 6-2, 6-3
  5. Mario Ancic - 6-4, 6-3, 6-4
  6. David Nalbandian - 3-6, 6-4, 5-2 R
  7. Rafael Nadal - 6-1, 1-6, 4-6, 6-7 (4)

Probably Fed's closest French Open finals against Nadal. In 2006, Fed still felt Nadal's game was not all that great ("not as layered as Tommy Haas"!). In my book, Fed pretty much got it in his head that he couldn't beat Nadal. That picture up there tells it all. The rest is history. 

Wimbledon 2006

  1. Richard Gasquet - 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
  2. Tim Henman - 6-4, 6-0, 6-2
  3. Nicolas Mahut - 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-4
  4. Tomas Berdych - 6-3, 6-3, 6-4
  5. Mario Ancic - 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
  6. Jonas Bjorkman - 6-2, 6-0, 6-2
  7. Rafael Nadal - 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3

Nadal had Fed on the ropes in both the 2nd and 3rd sets and was the only guy to take a set off him that year. One Mr. Berdych suffered his second straight 3-setter loss to Fed at a 'Slam. 

US Open 2006

  1. Yeu-Tzuoo Wang - 6-4, 6-1, 6-0
  2. Tim Henman - 6-3, 6-4, 7-5
  3. Vince Spadea - 6-3, 6-3, 6-0
  4. Marc Gicquel - 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3
  5. James Blake - 7-6 (7), 6-0, 6-7 (9), 6-4
  6. Nikolay Davydenko - 6-1, 7-5, 6-4
  7. Andy Roddick - 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1

Blake was playing on his favorite surface and did very well to give Fed a run for his money's worth. Those were the years when Blake's forehand and early ball stuff was quite a handful for a lot of players. Too bad, the guy never came with a Plan B for any match. 

Australian Open 2007

  1. Bjorn Phau - 7-5, 6-0, 6-4
  2. Jonas Bjorkman - 6-2, 6-3, 6-2
  3. Mikhail Youzhny - 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (5)
  4. Novak Djokovic - 6-2, 7-5, 6-3
  5. Tommy Robredo - 6-3, 7-6 (2), 7-5
  6. Andy Roddick - 6-4, 6-0, 6-2
  7. Fernando Gonzalez - 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4
Fed at his best, I would say. He did not drop a set and, particularly against Roddick in the semis, was sublime. Best was Roddick's post-match interview

 

French Open 2007

  1. Michael Russell - 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
  2. Thierry Ascione - 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (8)
  3. Potito Starace - 6-2, 6-3, 6-0
  4. Mikhail Youzhny - 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-4
  5. Tommy Robredo - 7-5, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2
  6. Nikolay Davydenko - 7-5, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7)
  7. Rafael Nadal - 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6

Honestly, by now, Fed was on the backfoot and saying a few prayers to try and beat Nadal at the French. For that matter, beating him on any surface was becoming dicey as was evidenced a month later. Maybe Fed was hoping for some divine help as he was looking up in the pic. Guga looked pretty dashing in the picture.

Wimbledon 2007

  1. Teimuraz Gabashvili - 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
  2. Juan-Martin Del Potro - 6-2, 7-5, 6-1
  3. Marat Safin - 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4)
  4. Tommy Haas - walk/over
  5. Juan-Carlos Ferrero - 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-3
  6. Richard Gasquet - 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
  7. Rafael Nadal - 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2

Whew! Man was Fed happy he edged Nadal out. And what about that Tommy Haas walkover? I bet Fed was happy about that too! That picture says it all.

US Open 2007

  1. Scoville Jenkins - 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
  2. Paul Dapdeville - 6-1, 6-4, 6-4
  3. John Isner - 6-7 (7), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2
  4. Feliciano Lopez - 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4
  5. Andy Roddick - 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-2
  6. Nikolay Davydenko - 7-5, 6-1, 7-5
  7. Novak Djokovic - 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4

I didn't realize Isner had taken the first set against Fed. Might have been a different story if the two had met in 2009 instead of '07. That Vader look was pretty dark and intimidating for his last three opponents.

Australian Open 2008

  1. Diego Hartfield - 6-0, 6-3, 6-0
  2. Fabrice Santoro - 6-1, 6-2, 6-0
  3. Janko Tipsarevic - 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-7, 6-1, 10-8
  4. Tomas Berdych - 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-3
  5. James Blake - 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4
  6. Novak Djokovic - 5-7, 3-6, 6-7 (5)

Two easy matches and Fed had probably started feeling king again. Hats off to Tipsarevic for nearly knocking him out. I think he pretty much softened him up for Nole. I don't think mono played that big a part as was made out to be.

French Open 2008

  1. Sam Querrey - 6-4, 6-4, 6-3
  2. Albert Montanes - 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-0, 6-4
  3. Mario Ancic - 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
  4. Julien Benneteau - 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
  5. Fernando Gonzalez - 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
  6. Gael Monfils - 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5
  7. Rafael Nadal - 1-6, 3-6, 0-6

This was Federer in full retreat against Nadal. What a slaughter! He took it like a man, though.

Wimbledon 2008

  1. Dominik Hrbaty - 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
  2. Robin Soderling - 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3)
  3. Marc Gicquel - 6-3, 6-3, 6-1
  4. Lleyton Hewitt - 7-6 (7), 6-2, 6-4
  5. Mario Ancic - 6-1, 7-5, 6-4
  6. Marat Safin - 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-4
  7. Rafael Nadal - 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8), 7-9

As great a match as it was (and I missed almost all of it when it happened), the fact that Federer could not break Nadal even once says a lot about the lack of sting in Fed's service returns. The rest of the tournament was routine including the much-anticipated (drummed-up?) match against "the man who last beat him at Wimbledon - Mario Ancic!". 

US Open 2008

First time in a long, long while that Federer started on the bottom half of the draw.

  1. Maximo Gonzalez - 6-3, 6-0, 6-3
  2. Thiago Alves - 6-3, 7-5, 6-4
  3. Radek Stepanek - 6-3, 6-3, 6-2
  4. Igor Andreev - 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-3
  5. Gilles Muller - 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (5)
  6. Novak Djokovic - 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2
  7. Andy Murray - 6-2, 7-6, 6-2

Boy, that was a dogfight against Andreev! The thing I remember most about that match was Fed's scream of delight followed by a very embarrassed smile towards his team. Djokovic lived up to his moniker of "Chokovic". Murray just showed up in the finals because he had to. Of course, one of the things to remember is this was probably the first US Open finals that was played on a Monday. 

Australian Open 2009

  1. Andreas Seppi - 6-1, 7-6 (4), 7-5
  2. Evgeny Korolev - 6-2, 6-3, 6-1
  3. Marat Safin - 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (5)
  4. Tomas Berdych - 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2
  5. Juan-Martin Del Potro - 6-3, 6-0, 6-0
  6. Andy Roddick - 6-2, 7-5, 7-5
  7. Rafael Nadal - 5-7, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2

Several interesting matches before the finals. First, that dramatic comeback after getting blown off the court by Berdych in the first two sets. Then the humiliation of Del Potro. Poor kid! And then, of course, the deflated performance in the 5th set in the finals. Followed by all that sobbing and crying. What's with Fed sobbing at the Oz Open, whether he wins or loses? Must be the marmite he's probably forced to eat by his sponsors!

French Open 2009

  1. Alberto Martin - 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
  2. Jose Acasuso - 7-6 (8), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-2
  3. Paul-Henri Mathieu - 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4
  4. Tommy Haas - 6-7 (4), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2
  5. Gael Monfis - 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4
  6. Juan-Martin Del Potro - 3-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4
  7. Robin Soderling - 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4

He finally did it, after scrambling and scratching against Haas and Del Potro. I don't buy all that crap about him winning only because Nadal lost. Heck, Nadal could have won his way to the finals (and would have probably beaten Fed if he got there!). 

Wimbledon 2009

  1. Yen-Hsun Lu - 7-5, 6-3, 6-2
  2. Guillermo Garcia Lopez - 6-2, 6-2, 6-4
  3. Philipp Kohlschreiber - 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-1
  4. Robin Soderling - 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5)
  5. Ivo Karlovic - 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (3)
  6. Tommy Haas - 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-3
  7. Andy Roddick - 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14

Roddick played great. Too bad about that horrible backhand volley miss at set point in the 2nd. Barring that, this was a great, tense battle. Federer hung touch but was lucky to win.

US Open 2009

  1. Devin Britton - 6-1, 6-3, 7-5
  2. Simon Greul - 6-3, 7-5, 7-5
  3. Lleyton Hewitt - 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4
  4. Tommy Robredo - 7-5, 6-2, 6-2
  5. Robin Soderling - 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6)
  6. Novak Djokovic - 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5
  7. Juan-Martin Del Potro - 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-7 (4), 2-6

By now, Hewitt was so far down in the rankings that he was meeting Fed in the 3rd round. Other than that, tough match against Soderling, especially when it seemed Fed would steamroll him after the first two sets. Del Potro's forehand made Fed look pedestrian by the end. He just couldn't neutralize it. Too bad he couldn't win the 2nd set tie-breaker, else he would probably have had a W against his name. 

Australian Open 2010

  1. Igor Andreev - 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-0
  2. Victor Hanescu - 6-2, 6-3, 6-2
  3. Albert Montanes - 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
  4. Lleyton Hewitt - 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
  5. Nikolay Davydenko - 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5
  6. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - 6-2, 6-3, 6-2
  7. Andy Murray - 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11)

Except for the Andreev and Davydenko matches, nothing bad seemed to happen to Fed. But look at the players he beat. I think he was running on fumes and none of us knew it then.