Even Roger Federer can blow a tennis shot badly

Monday, May 17, 2010

MADRID — Take heart, tennis hackers: Roger Federer has shown that even the best can look pretty bad on a shot.

An important shot, at that. One point from losing the Madrid Masters final to Rafael Nadal, Federer prepared to hit a forehand off a ball that bounced a few feet in front of him. Instead of flying back over the net, the ball kept sailing and landed behind the 16-time major champion, giving Nadal a 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory.

A quick look appears to show Federer whiffing entirely. Replays — various clips are available Monday on YouTube — make it appear possible that Federer's racket tipped the ball.

Either way, Federer managed to laugh at himself, saying after Sunday's loss: "Well, I've had more beautiful match points. ... I decided to take a chance, and it didn't pay off."

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Tennis needs Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry to resume

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On Sunday afternoon, it will be a full year since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last played each other.

Theirs is arguably the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis, better than Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, more compelling than Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, and in the 2008 Wimbledon final they produced some extraordinary drama. Yet, since Federer defeated Nadal to win the title at Madrid’s Caja Magica last season, the 20-match series has been on hold.

Though they have been on opposite sides of the net in charity doubles matches, tennis could do with Federer and Nadal resuming their rivalry for real, either here, in Paris, or in London.

The Swiss and the Spaniard are seeded to meet in the final on the clay here, ahead of the French Open a week on Sunday, yet it cannot be said with any certainty that the projected match is going to happen in the Spanish capital.

Since winning a 16th grand slam title at the Australian Open, Federer has failed to reach another final, let alone win another tournament.

On the clay, the French Open champion’s form has been particularly scratchy, as he lost his opening match in Rome to Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis and last week was defeated in the semi-finals of the Estoril tournament by Albert Montanes, of Spain.

He did not have everything his own way as he opened his tournament in Madrid against Benjamin Becker, needing a tie-break to complete his straight-sets, second-round, 6-2, 7-6 victory over his German opponent.

In the 3½ months since Federer won the Australian Open, the only one of the top four to have won a title is Nadal, the champion at the clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo and Rome.

Novak Djokovic, ranked second behind Federer, had to retire from a match in Belgrade last week because of allergies and breathing problems, and he decided against coming to Spain, and Andy Murray has had his difficulties since that night at Melbourne Park.

So far on the clay this season, Murray has won one match. The Scot, who had a bye through the first round here, will open his tournament against Juan Ignacio Chela, an Argentine qualifier on Wednesday.

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The Net Post: Roger Federer unsurprised by Rafael Nadal’s comeback

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Roger Federer insisted he did not watch a single stroke of Rafael Nadal’s staggering exploits in Monte Carlo the week before last when the Spanish leviathan won the title for a sixth time in succession, losing 14 games in the process. Did the results surprise him? “I was more surprised that everybody thought Rafa wasn’t playing so well any more,” the world No 1 said. “The critics in this sport are at a pretty high level. I went through the same thing before.”

The higher you rise, the greater the praise, and the more intense the scrutiny becomes if the wheels should start to lack traction. The Wimbledon champion knows how the game is played. By “high level” the 16-time grand slam champion did not mean that he bowed to the quality of the questions raised against Nadal, but more that he found a lot of what had been written about his friendly foe rather disquieting.

“He (Nadal) should have clearly won Doha in the first week of the year when he was playing incredible tennis, he was toying with (Nikolay) Davydenko in the final before Davydenko got a little lucky, saved a match point and ended up playing an incredible third set,” Federer said. “He was playing really well in the Australian Open before he had to pull out (against Andy Murray) and everybody started to get negative. There has been too much of that about him in my opinion. Surely you would have to assume that once the clay-court season came around, he was going to be back to his A-game.”

It was A+ in Monte Carlo and now that he is rested by choosing not to repel all invaders in Barcelona for a sixth time – Fernando Verdasco, beaten 6-0, 6-1 by Nadal in the Monaco final, collected that title, defeating Robin Soderling yesterday – Nadal ought to be refreshed for the formidable challenges ahead.

Federer looked pretty bloomin’ blossoming as he did his usual frenetic media rounds at the Foro Italico. It has got to the point where women with babies in pushchairs ask Tony Godsick, his manager, to pose for pictures with their offspring, hoping no doubt that the acumen with which he has delivered Federer’s off-the-field splendour will rub off on them.

Of the nine current Masters in which he has competed (Federer did not play in Shanghai last year when it became a Masters 1000 for the first time), Rome is only one of three, along with Paris and Monte Carlo, that he has not won. He did have two match points on his racket in the extraordinary five-set final here in 2006, which would have satisfied an awful lot of people not named Federer. He did not baulk at the point made to him that this is Nadal’s title to lose.

“His record would suggest that for sure,” Federer said. “He has been on an absolute tear on clay, he has only ever lost one match at the French Open and though I would love to say that I’m the big favourite here and in Paris, it would not seem quite right. Rafa has proved again in Monaco just how tough he is but I think there are guys out here who can challenge him.”

Federer was intriguing, too, on the travails of Murray and Novak Djokovic, the young pretenders who have hit the odd stumbling block recently. Djokovic has returned, lock, stock and barrel to Marian Vajda, his long-time coach, having believed that Todd Martin, the American, may have been able to offer him solace and a new understanding of his game. Sometimes, if it ain’t really broke, there is no need to seek out a different fixer. Murray’s travails are well known.

“I was always pretty impressed at how incredibly solid they were in the Masters events, always in the semis or quarters,” Federer said, “because I know how hard that is to do. I never took those kind of achievements for granted, even when they were expected of me. They are obviously feeling it more now, when they aren’t winning the Masters and have not won a grand slam in the last year. The aura can fade and now, with Nadal winning Monaco, the situation has changed again. It will be interesting to see how it turns out and if they can bounce back.”

Djokovic called it a “crisis that everyone has to go through” and yet the Serbian is No 2 in the world, he is a grand slam champion and he is not 23 until next month. “I have got my thoughts back together, I’m working on some things, but it’s been mentally exhausting for me.”

The greater concern among the protagonists in the men’s game is the continued inactivity of Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, the US Open champion, who has not played since Melbourne because of an injury to his right wrist. There is still pain there, the Net Post is told, and he is considered only a ‘maybe’ for the Mutua Madrilena Masters in Madrid the week after next.

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Federer makes shock exit in California

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

World number one Roger Federer has crashed out of the Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells despite holding three match points against his Cypriot opponent Marcos Baghdatis.

The Tuesday night match in California proved a two hours 22 minutes classic with 27th-seeded Baghdatis trailing by a set and then saving the first two match points at 4-5 down in the second set on his own service.

The 24-year-old saved both and then broke the Swiss maestro in the next game before serving out for the second set.

Baghdatis, who reached the Australian Open final in 2008 losing to Novak Djokovic, also trailed 4-1 in the deciding set and after breaking back faced his third and final match point at 6-5, but Federer netted a backhand to see his chances disappear.

Baghdatis took advantage and secured a mini-break in the tiebreaker which he claimed 7-4 to wrap up a 5-7 7-5 7-6 victory to reach the last 16 of the prestigious $4.5 million hard court tournament.

"It was the best win of my career," Baghdatis told the official ATP Tour Web site. "I think that says everything. I cannot say I'm not happy."

Australian Open champion Federer, who had struggled to beat Romanian Victor Hanescu in his opening match after his layoff, said his lack of match practice had counted against him on the crucial points.

"It was a decent match, but maybe the wrong choices at the wrong time for me. That's not something you can really work on. That comes from playing matches and that's what I need."

With Federer out, the path on their side of the draw appears clear for Britain's Andy Murray, who eased past Michael Russell of the United States 6-3 7-5 in their third round match.

Fourth seed Murray was beaten by Federer in the final of the opening grand slam of the season in Melbourne.

Home hopes were boosted by an easy straight sets win for seventh seed Andy Roddick over Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands while in-form Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France was taken to three sets before beating Albert Montanes of Spain, 4-6 6-3 6-3.

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Federer Wins the Australian Open 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

For a split second, it seemed like Roger Federer's reign of dominance might end Sunday.

Up 10-9 in the third set tiebreaker and holding his second match point, he drew his foe Andy Murray into the net with a drop shot and moved over to cover the line as the quick Scot sprinted forward. His brain briefly screamed 'hit the volley,' but instead, he let the ball whiz past him and watched it fall in the corner.

"I thought, 'Oh no, I'm going to see myself in the fifth set and not winning the title,' " said Federer, who slapped himself on the forehead. "I'm thinking, 'My God, he just grabbed the trophy out of my hands. I might end up losing this thing.' "  But, Federer doesn't lose matches like that. Five points later after Murray buried a backhand into the net, Federer came away with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11) victory for his fourth Australian title and his record 16th major title overall.

The longtime No. 1 continues to defy the odds, as at the age of 28 and with just about every conceivable record in his pocket, he's stays motivated and amazingly, seems to be improving. To be able to face down a young player as smart and as talented as Murray in straight sets when it appeared as though Britain's greatest hopeful was at the top of his game is astounding. Murray came into the match with a 6-4 record against Federer and had scored mind-boggling knockouts of Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic en route to the finals. He was smoking big serves, teeing off with his forehand, closing on the net and was no longer just a brilliant tactician with a hatchet of a backhand and eye-popping return of serve.

But Federer cautioned before the match that their head to head record had to be thrown out. Why? Because it was he who knew how to perform in major finals, and not Murray, who had only been there once before at the 2008 U.S. Open in a loss to Federer. That it was Murray who really needed the win to cement his status as an elite player.

Instead of bringing the up-tempo, suffocating attack that had wowed Nadal, Murray largely played a passive match, where Federer went right at him early, serving with precision and power, daring him to play into his ultra-dangerous forehand.  After Federer fought off three break points in the fifth game of the match, he seized control, breaking Murray to 5-4 with two forehands down both lines. He easily held to close out the first set and then broke the Scot to go up 2-1 in the second set with a flying forehand crosscourt pass and then forced Murray into a forehand error.

"I was just floating and trying to be dangerous," Federer said.  Unlike in previous matches when he was able to break Federer's backhand down and make major statements on his own service games, Murray merely poked the ball around and could get no real rhythm on his serve. The second set quickly disappeared with a vintage Federer serve and forehand swing volley and Murray dragged himself around the court.

But in the third, he woke up, but not for long enough. Heartened by the fact that Federer had lost two five-set Grand Slam finals in the past 13 months -- to Nadal at the Australian Open and to Juan Martin del Potro at the U.S. Open -- Murray began to claw and cut loose a little more. He got off to a 5-3 lead but then began to get shaky again as Federer began to press him. He was broken back to 5-4 on a lousy forehand and he screamed at himself.

Murray kept battling and brought the set to a tiebreaker, but he simply couldn't capitalize on five set points, three of which were lost on unforced errors and one, a backhand volley he missed at 7-6, will surely haunt him for the rest of the winter.  "I can cry like Roger, it's just a shame I can't play like him," a despondent Murray said during the awards ceremony.

Now Murray's long preparation for his next realistic chance to win a major -- the pressure cooker of Wimbledon -- will commence, while Federer can put up his feet and revel is his self-made glory. How about this: the Swiss has reached 18 of the last 19 Grand Slam finals, and has won 16 of the last 29 majors. Although the cliche goes that records are made to be broken, those are almost unapproachable marks. Here's another: He's won 16 Slams in the last six and half years. Who is going to approach that feat?

"I always knew I had something special, but I didn't know it was that crazy," Federer said. "I definitely had to work extremely hard so I would pick the right shot at the right time. I always knew I had it in my hands. The question is do I have it in my mind and in my legs. Now I feel like obviously I'm being pushed a great deal by the new generation coming up. When I came on tour, matches were played very differently. It was more of a bluff game, guys serving well, but there was always a weakness you could go to.

"Today that doesn't exist anymore. That's also thanks to guys like Murray. They've made me a better player, because I think this has been one of my finest performances in a long time, or maybe forever."

Outside of his main rival, Nadal, whose longevity as a standout player may be in jeopardy because of chronic tendonitis in his knees, no player has been able to consistently touch him at the majors. He'll take an odd loss here (to Novak Djokovic at the 2008 Aussie Open) and the odd defeat there (to del Potro), but no player in history has been so consistently lethal, so clutch, so willing to stand up and deliver just when it seems like he's about to take a step back.

"I'm flabbergasted to know what still motivates him," former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said. "I certainly couldn't keep it up. There must be a real challenge there. He had great year last year, but was beaten by some young up-and-comers and for him to come out and play as well as he did here shows he still has stuff to prove to himself and to match up with the young guys. I didn't expect him to play this well."

Federer is confounded why he's even asked what still drives him. He's the father of twins now and became the first dad since Andre Agassi in 2003 to win a major. So why not just retire, take it easy, raise the kids and dreamily think back to his glory days. Maybe because there are more glory days ahead, or maybe because he was simply born to play.

"Unlike any of the other great champions who had angst or insecurities or needed something financially, this guy has a pure love of the game that we haven't seen before" said Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob. "It's the pure fulfillment of achievement and being the best that he can be."

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Federer, Tsonga reach Australian Open semis

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In a record that will surely stand the test of time, Federer on Wednesday night advanced to his 23rd consecutive grand slam semi-final with an iron-willed four-set comeback victory over Nikolay Davydenko at the Australian Open.

"It's incredible looking back on how many years that is now that I'm able to deliver at grand-slam play," Federer said after rallying from a set and a service break down to snap the Russian's own impressive 13-match winning streak with a 2-6-3 6-0 7-5 quarter-final triumph at Melbourne Park.

"Especially this year, I think, looking at the draw with Hewitt in the fourth round and Davydenko in the quarters, who has been on fire the last weeks. "Even today we saw big signs of it, why he's such a great player. "So, for some reason, I was just a bit worried I was not going to make it this time to the semis. You always believe the streak is going to be broken.

"I stopped thinking about it after the second round on and just started focusing on the tournament "It helps once the tournament starts. You focus match for match and point for point, so I forget about the record. "Now obviously that it's safe again and I've been able to add one, it's amazing. "Definitely one of the most incredible things I have in my resume."

Federer will play Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Novak Djokovic in a late finishing quarter-final on Wednesday night. Former champion Djokovic held a two sets to one lead, before an upset stomach caused him to meekly surrender the fourth set, and Tsonga pressed home his advantage in the decider. The 7-6 (10-8) 6-7 (5-7) 1-6 6-3 6-1 victory over the man who downed him in the 2008 final gives Muhammad Ali look-alike Tsonga a semi-final shot at world No.1 Roger Federer.

But if he is to make his second Australian Open final he will need to cut the errors from his game. What the match lacked in brilliance, it made up for in tension, drama and changes of fortune. The turning point came early in the fourth, when Djokovic began to clutch repeatedly at his stomach, before calling a medical time-out so he could leave the court to throw up. Tsonga seized his chance, racing through the fourth set with little trouble, then with the finish line in sight, quickly delivering the knockout blow in the fifth.

Federer's phenomenal run at the majors ranks alongside the likes of Lance Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour de France wins, Michael Jordan's seven NBA scoring titles on the spin, Edwin Moses' 122 successive 400m hurdles victories, Steve Redgrave's five successive Olympic rowing gold medals, Byron Nelson's 11 straight PGA Tour titles, Tiger Woods' 142 straight PGA cuts made and squash legend Jahangir Khan's 555-match winning streak.

Federer's record puts Rod Laver's 12 straight semi-finals - either side of his grand slam exile from 1963-67 - and Ivan Lendl's modern-era second-best 10 straight from 1985-88 into the shade. Federer's victory also clinched the world No.1 ranking for a 268th week, matching Jimmy Connors - the pair now tied for third behind only Pete Sampras (286 weeks) and Lendl (270 weeks) on the all-time list of longest reigns.

Federer was halfway to the Melbourne Park exit gates after dropping the opening set and staring a double break in the face in the second set. But the 15-times major champion barely blinked before reeling off 13 straight games - and winning 51 of the next 64 points in the process - to avert disaster against a confident foe who'd won their two most encounters over the past month.

"It was in a tough situation at 6-2, 3-1 down and 15-40 on my serve," Federer said.  "I knew I wasn't looking very good.  "But that's the beauty of best of five sets. I wasn't panicking, even though I maybe would have lost the second set had I lost another point there at that stage. "But I just relaxed and thought, you know, maybe if the sun goes and his level drops just a little bit, the whole thing might change for the better.  "It did. I couldn't believe the way it changed, but I'm happy the way I was able to go on an incredible run and get the cushion with the extra break at the beginning of the fourth."

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Federer, Serena moved on to Australian Open semi-finals

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

MELBOURNE — Roger Federer and Serena Williams showed championship form to battle back from a set down and storm into their semi-finals at the Australian Open on Wednesday. Li Na also made the last four with an upset victory over Venus Williams, giving China two players in a Grand Slam semi for the first time. Her reward is a clash with top seed Serena.

But the tournament ended for ailing third seed Novak Djokovic who was knocked out in a thrilling late night five-setter by 10th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he beat in the 2008 final. The Frenchman will now meet Federer, who was given a scare by sixth seed Nikolay Davydenko when the Russian ace led 6-2, 3-1 before the Swiss star clicked into gear.

He won 13 straight games to take the next two sets before a titantic struggle in the fourth with the 15-time Grand Slam champion eventually coming home 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5 to end Davydenko's 13-match winning streak. It puts Federer into his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, having never missed out since his third round defeat to Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros in 2004.

"I've played him many times and I know he goes through phases for half an hour, an hour," Federer said of Davydenko. "You've just got to stick with him and if you don't he's going to crush you." All of a sudden I went on a run like I did and that was a bit surprising, but I needed that cushion at the end of the fourth when he played well." Asked if he was concerned that he might lose, he said: "I was a touch worried, let's put it that way."

Tsonga prevailed 7-6 (10/8), 6-7 (5/7), 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a near four-hour marathon against Djokovic, who was struggling with illness and at one point took a medical timeout for an upset stomach. It was sweet revenge for the Frenchman after his 2008 disappointment. "It was just amazing the level we played at. I'm so happy I won," said Tsonga, who added he would be ready for Federer on Friday despite being taken to five sets in his past two matches -- the only five-setters of his career. "I will be ready," he said. "It's going to be tough though, he's the best player ever."

Fifth seeded Andy Murray faces 14th seeded Croat Marin Cilic in the other semi-final on Thursday, with the Scot seeking to win Britain's first Grand Slam since Fred Perry in 1936.

Like Federer, Serena was also on the ropes before staging a comeback to stay on track for her fifth Australian title. She was down 4-6, 0-4 to seventh seed Victoria Azarenka before fighting back and winning a tense tiebreaker to level the match.

Azarenka was rattled and Serena rammed home her advantage to win 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and set up a clash with Li, who came from behind to shock Venus 2-6, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5. Justine Henin and unseeded Chinese Zheng Jie contest Thursday's other semi. "I am surprised and I am just happy to still be here," said Serena. "I didn't expect to win when I was down 0-4."

Venus should have made it a sister act in the semis, but she threw it away against Li in a scrappy match where they made a incredible combined 110 unforced errors. She was a set and 4-2 up in the second when Li made her move, playing with greater freedom as Venus tightened up, with her forehand going to pieces. Venus, who has won seven Grand Slams but never in Melbourne, admitted Li was the better player.

"I think I was playing good tennis -- I don't think it has anything to do with whether I was playing good," she said. "I have to give her a lot of credit for playing well and picking her game up." Making the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time was a dream come true for the Chinese 16th seed. "It's the best day of my whole life," an exuberant Li said.

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A Year of Farewells, Returns and Surprises in Tennis

Tuesday, December 15, 2009
It was a sentimental tennis season. Marat Safin, Amélie Mauresmo and Ai Sugiyama retired and actually appeared to mean it. Meanwhile, the unretired Kim Clijsters clutched the United States Open trophy as her 18-month-old daughter, Jada, toddled around the hard court where her mother had played with such strength and composure.

It was a controversial season. Serena Williams failed anger management at the United States Open but somehow avoided suspension. Israeli players generated diplomatic incidents in Dubai, where Shahar Peer was not given a visa for the women’s tournament, and in Sweden, where officials in Malmo cited security concerns in barring fans from a Davis Cup match against Israel.

It was a literary season, as Williams and the retired Andre Agassi produced autobiographies that were more revealing than the usual as-told-to filler that passes for sports literature.

Above all, it was a historic season, with Roger Federer becoming a family man and the career leader in Grand Slam singles titles. Federer finally won the French Open, the only major singles title he was missing. He then rode the wave — with his archrival Rafael Nadal absent — and won his record 15th major title at Wimbledon, the game’s favorite throwback and newly equipped with a translucent, retractable roof that was not closed for any of Federer’s matches. His latest title further bolstered the argument that he is the greatest player of all time.

Though he hardly dominated week in, week out in 2009, he reached the final of all four majors and regained the year-end ranking he had lost to Nadal in 2008. How easy then to forget that until May, this looked like Year 2 of Nadal’s reign, with the Majorcan launching his season by disposing of Federer in a five-set Australian Open final that left the Swiss star muttering, “God, it’s killing me,” through the tears at the awards ceremony.

But public breakdowns apparently do not end eras. Nor do minor tantrums, like the one Federer indulged in by throwing his racket for the first time in years in Miami. Nadal would eventually get derailed by knee problems and by Robin Soderling, the Swede who dealt Nadal his first loss at the French Open.

Federer has now turned into a scrapper in his middle tennis age. He had to claw his way through multiple five-setters to win at last in Paris and then had to keep holding serve in the Wimbledon final before finally prevailing, 16-14, over Andy Roddick in the fifth.

Federer could not hold off Juan Martín del Potro at the United States Open, however, as the towering del Potro gradually settled into his first Grand Slam final. He pounded enough thunderous forehand winners to end Federer’s 40-match winning streak in New York and to become the first Argentine man to win there since Guillermo Vilas in 1977.

Just to remind Federer and Nadal that the new guard will not be the only threat to their status in 2010, Nikolay Davydenko — a member of the establishment — beat Nadal, Federer and del Potro to win the year-end tour championships in London.

SHOTS OF THE YEAR A YouTube poll would surely favor Federer’s no-look, between-the-legs winner off a lob from Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the United States Open. But the shot that really made all the difference for Federer came in the fourth round of the French Open against Tommy Haas. Down two sets to none and facing a break point at 3-4, Federer let fly with an inside-out forehand that caught the line. Federer said he knew then and there that he was going to win the tournament.

On the women’s side, it might not have been pretty, but Serena Williams’s lunging backhand volley against Elena Dementieva in a Wimbledon semifinal saved match point. Even if it clipped the net, it was a winner. Williams went on to win her third Wimbledon.

UPSETS OF THE YEAR No debate necessary for the men: Soderling’s victory over Nadal at Roland Garros. As for the women, Carla Suárez Navarro’s defeat of Venus Williams in the Australian Open certainly made waves. So did Sybille Bammer’s straight-set defeat of Serena Williams in Cincinnati. But it was the combined effect of Melanie Oudin’s run of upsets at the United States Open that made the biggest impression. Oudin, a 17-year-old American, knocked off three imposing Russians: Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova. Oudin has yet to win another main-draw match.

COMEBACKS OF THE YEAR Clijsters, the first unranked player to win a major singles title since Evonne Goolagong in 1977, is the obvious choice, but in any other season, the prize would have gone to Kimiko Date Krumm, the Japanese icon who won a tournament in Seoul at 38 after taking a nearly 12-year break from the game between 1996 and 2008.

For the men, Haas might have failed to close the deal against Federer in Paris, but he did get the job done against Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in reaching the semifinals at 31. For the year, he improved his ranking 66 spots, finishing No. 18.

FLOPS OF THE YEAR The smooth-moving Ernests Gulbis of Latvia was on nearly everyone’s list of players to watch in 2009. He finished the year at No. 90. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former No. 1, struggled to get it right all season. Still charming, she was no longer as convincing with her serve or forehand, dropping out of the top 20 and failing to advance past the fourth round in a Slam.

MATCHES OF THE YEAR Serena Williams’s victory over Dementieva at Wimbledon was a three-set tussle brimming with athleticism, quality and courage. But Clijsters’ victory over Serena in the United States Open semifinals was more than a match. It was a spectacle wrapped up in a scandal. Clijsters kept her cool, and Williams most certainly did not as she threatened and swore at a lineswoman for calling a foot fault. Clijsters never had to win match point, but her brilliant play certainly brought Williams to the boiling point.

Nadal’s five-set victory over Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open semifinals was an ode to tireless hitting and hard running. Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic had to play for more than six hours and withstand a record 78 aces before prevailing over Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the Davis Cup semifinals. But Federer-Roddick gets the nod on the strength and length of the occasion. Even if Federer didn’t play his best, he served brilliantly. And Roddick, who will probably never get so close to another major singles title, was such a class act in defeat.

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Roger Federer reclaims year-end No. 1 ranking

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LONDON — Roger Federer has reclaimed his spot at the top of the tennis world, securing the year-end No. 1 ranking for the fifth time.

The record 15-time Grand Slam champion is closing in on Pete Sampras' all-time mark of six.

"It means a lot to have returned to No. 1 and to finish the year again at No. 1," Federer said Wednesday after accepting a trophy on court at the ATP World Tour Finals. "It was an incredible year for me both on the court and off the court and to be able to break the all-time Grand Slam record and finish the year on top is amazing."

Federer earned the top year-end ranking after winning his opening two matches at the season-ending tour finals at the O2 Arena. Rafael Nadal, who ended Federer's five-year run as the end-of-season No. 1 last year, had a mathematical chance of overtaking Federer for the top spot but lost his opening match.

Federer struggled in the 2008 season, but reached all four Grand Slams finals yet again in 2009 and won two titles. The first championship came at the French Open, making the Swiss player only the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam.

At the All England Club, he reclaimed the Wimbledon title by defeating Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth set and surpassing Sampras with his 15th major title.

"After having a rough 2008, coming back this year and being able to dominate and play at the top when the depth in tennis is so, so great at the moment, I think it's a wonderful achievement," Federer said after beating Andy Murray on Tuesday. "It's a wonderful feeling."

Up next for Federer, who got married and had twin daughters this year, is trying to match Sampras with a sixth year-end No. 1 ranking. He's tied with Jimmy Connors with five apiece.

But this year's achievement was also special because Federer became only the second player to reclaim the distinction after losing it. Ivan Lendl, who was No. 1 from 1985-87, did it in 1989.

At the ATP World Tour Finals, Federer has twice rallied after losing the first set, first beating Fernando Verdasco on Sunday and Murray on Tuesday. He will face Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday to guarantee a spot in the semifinals of the season-ending tournament.

Del Potro, who is 1-1 in the round-robin tournament, beat Federer in five sets in the U.S. Open final.

"It could be a make-or-break match for us to get through," Federer said. "If that's the case, I'll give it all I have and try to beat him this time. Last time we played, it was a fantastic match in New York."

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Roger Federer says he's only 'midway' through his tennis career

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It must be a scary thought to the other players on the ATP Tour that Roger Federer thinks he's only "midway" through his career. In an interview with Londay's Sunday Times, Federer said that he plans to play past the 2012 Olympics and hopes to extend his playing days long enough so that his infant twin daughters can see him play.

"I'm midway [through my career]. It feels like the second part of my career right now, although I am trying to avoid saying that because the second part sounds like ‘neehhhhrrrrr' [motions straight down]. You can definitely play your greatest tennis until 32 or 33, it's just a matter of how you look at it. I've always been a big believer in looking at the big picture. It's not about, ‘What will we do tomorrow?', it's about, ‘How will my life and tennis look in the next five years?' And I still have the same vision, so that's going to help me."

Federer turned 28 in August so, by his math, he could still be on top of his game through 2014. With 15 Grand Slams already to his credit, could his unspoken goal to top Steffi Graf's all-time modern record of 22 Slams? Graf (whom I now want to call "Stefanie" after reading Andre Agassi's autobiography) had a prime that lasted nine years, but she started winning Slams much earlier in her life than Federer did. For Federer to reach her, he'd probably need to win six of the next 12 and then hope to win another one or two in the twilight of his career.

It sounds daunting, but are you going to put anything past Federer? His last two years at the Slams have been considered disappointments, yet he's still won three of eight.

Like his buddy Tiger Woods, Federer's unprecedented string of success set such unrealistic expectations that mere greatness seems ordinary. When Tiger goes a year without winning a major (like he did in 2009), people ask if his season was a failure. Federer won two this year, but he loses to Del Potro at the U.S. Open and it causes buzzing that his game is on the decline. Can't a guy lose a match every now and then?

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