In today’s Washington Post, very good staff writer Liz Clarke delivers an excellent summary of yesterday’s U.S. Open final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. (Shame on the Post, by the way, for letting coverage of the first game of the Skins’ season to push a piece on the premier U.S. tennis event to the third page of the section. That’s provincial for even a regional newspaper.)
Clarke runs down the key moments of the match in a tight narrative. But when she pulls back to discuss the larger arc of Federer’s career, she retreats into some received tennis wisdom that actually has no basis in fact. At issue is a milestone. Federer now has won 12 majors, just two shy of the all-time record of Pete Sampras. Federer is 26 and has won the last four U.S. Opens. His victory over Djokovic was a straight-set affair.
Yet Clarke writes this: “If Federer is to surpass Sampras’s mark of 14 Grand Slam titles, he’d better do it soon. At the rate Djokovic is improving, Federer’s perch atop tennis may not be safe much longer.”
Hmmm, seems I’ve heard that logic before. Oh yeah, Rafael Nadal was going to unseat him anytime soon. Now it’s this guy.
Well, here’s what’s really going on: The people who say this stuff—-sportswriters, broadcasters, experts—-are staked some way in the sport and feel compelled to pump up the drama.
But there’s none here. The only conclusion reachable from RF’s summer ’08 romp—-he won Wimbledon, too—-is that he’ll dominate the sport for years. Every time an opponent comes close to him, he shows a level of perfection that’s never been seen before. He’s got the serve, the strokes, and he doesn’t choke, ever. The more key the point, the better he plays.
And no matter how much older and more prepared his rivals become, it’s that last attribute that they will never develop.