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Deserved, But Not Noticed

By Brian Burnsed Posted: 09/10/2007
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If I asked you who the world’s most dominant athlete is you might say Tiger Woods.

You might be wrong.

Who, then, you ask, could strike such fear in his opponents? Who could have more reign over his sport than even the mighty Tiger?

You only needed to watch the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which concluded on Sunday, to find the answer. I’m sure many know his name, but I don’t know if enough people realize the magnitude of what he has just done.

Roger Federer won his fourth-straight U.S. Open, putting another piece of hardware in a trophy case that includes the last five Wimbledon titles and the last two Australian Open crowns. If you skimmed over any of that read it again, because it’s an enduring hot streak uparalleled by any athlete of our era.

In all, he’s won 12 grand slam tournaments since winning his first Wimbledon title in 2003. He’s appeared in ten consecutive finals of major tournaments, even finding himself in the final of the dreaded French Open, which has been his, and nearly every other tennis great’s, Achilles heel because of its slow- paced clay courts. Outside of his two French Open final defeats to clay court specialist Rafael Nadal, Federer hasn’t fallen in the final of a major tournament, and only once was he even taken to five sets in a final.

In comparison, Tiger Woods, unquestionably the greatest golfer of his era, and likely of all time, has won 13 majors, but over the span of 13 years, as opposed to Federer’s 12 in five years.

Along the way Federer has dismantled many of the game’s best in three set victories. His list of three set victims includes names like Hewitt, Roddick, Agassi, Safin and Djokovic, any of whom could have dominated the sport, if Mr. Federer had chosen another profession.

Last week, Federer gave us all a fresh reminder of exactly how good he has been.

In his quarterfinal match against Roddick, Federer was faced with the best tennis that Andy Roddick can play. Roddick blasted 140 MPH serves Federer’s way, hustled for every ball and wasn’t broken until the final set. Arthur Ashe stadium was full of rowdy American fans urging their superstar to finally triumph over the force that is Federer.

How did Federer react as Roddick, fueled by 23,000 fans, poured every ounce of himself into the match?

Federer won in straight sets.

Once again in a major tournament, Federer turned Roddick into a spectator. And on the court where Roddick thrives, on his home turf, under the lights, on national television. Everytime Roddick hit a brilliant shot, Federer hit a better one. Everytime Roddick hustled and strained, Federer was a little faster.

Roddick has long been considered in the top tier of his sport, but as Federer effortlessly returned Roddick’s rocket serve and made the hardest shots look easy, it was clear that no one had ever ruled tennis the way Federer does.
And in the final we were all reminded that no one rules any sport in the way Federer does. In Sunday’s final Federer found himself across the court from an upstart 20-year-old Djokovic who has vowed to defeat Federer in a major.

Djokovic has an impressive array of skills and has set his sights on dethroning the world’s best. So what could he do in his first shot at Federer on a major stage?

Lose in straight sets.

Those are just two of hundreds of matches in which Federer has left the world’s best shaking their heads. They are baffled by his brillliance and seemingly know that they have no chance at victory. Tiger’s opponents however are unafraid to brashly criticize him in the media and suggest even that his skills may be waning. Federer has had no such suggestions volleyed his way.

Federer is only 26 years old, and if Sunday’s match against Djokovic is any indication there is no end in sight for his reign over the tennis courts and the sports world.

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