Monday, September 10, 2007

Roger - part 1

Roger Federer was nowhere near his best when he beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets (7-6, 7-6, 6-4) Sunday to collect his fourth straight U.S. Open title. But when you're the best player in the world you don't always have to be. That makes 12 Grand Slam titles for Federer (Grand Slams refer to the four major tournaments in pro tennis - Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open). This places him behind only Pete Sampras (14) for most career Grand Slam titles.

So how good is he? Well, during the quarterfinals of this tournament, Federer had to face Andy Roddick. He's America's best player and would have at least three more Grand Slam titles if not for Federer. He has defeated Federer only once in his career, thwarted at every turn to beat his Swiss master when it matters. This time, Roddick came out firing, playing perhaps the best tennis of his career. Federer had to be perfect to win. And he was, beating America's best in straight sets 7-6, 7-6, 6-2.

Federer's accomplishments have placed him squarely among tennis' all-time best. But the question being asked more and more as Federer continues to dominate - Is he the best ever?

Not an easy question to answer, given the many great players in the history of men's tennis. Bill Tilden, Roy Emerson, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Mats Vilander, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and Andre Agassi were all-time greats, but usually not considered as the best ever.

Currently, four names are in the argument as best all-time.

Rod Laver
The last men's player to achieve the tennis holy grail - to complete a Grand Slam (win all four major tournaments in calender year). And he did it twice. From 1962 to 1979, the Australian amassed 181 singles titles including 11 Grand Slam titles (tied with Borg for 3rd all-time). Laver was a technically superior player who had an excellent serve and volley game, combined with aggressive groundstrokes utilizing topspin, an innovation in the sixties. His backhand is among the all-time best shots. Despite his somewhat short stature (5'8"), Laver had both speed and strength. He was quick on the court and generated tremendous groundstrokes from a powerful left arm. He played against greats like Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, and Arthur Ashe.

Bjorn Borg
This Swede was nearly unbeatable from 1976 to 1980. He won 11 Grand Slam titles in his career. Perhaps more impressive is that he achieved what is considered to be the most difficult feat in tennis, winning both Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year. Borg did it four times!

Note: Wimbledon is played on grass, a "fast" surface because the ball bounces fast and low, making for shorter points that favor serve-and volley players. The French Open is played on clay, a "slow" surface because the ball bounces slower and higher with less forward motion, making it more difficult to hit an unreturnable shot. Points tend to be longer on clay, favoring baseline players who are generally more defensive and consistent.

To put this in perspective, only one other player (Andre Agassi) has since won both Wimbledon and the French Open in his entire career.

Borg played from the baseline, utilizing powerful groundstrokes and tremendous topspin to dominate his opponents. Borg rarely made mistakes and was famous for his unflinching focus and steely reserve on the court. This earned him the nickname "Iceman." Combined with his exceptional physical fitness, Borg appeared more robot than human.

Borg dominated tennis during one of the most competative eras of men's tennis which included such greats as Guillermo Vilas, Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe, however, he retired suddenly at the age of 26.

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

You know, I saw the word "Roger" and tennis and thought this was going to be a mulit-piece series on Rober Voss. Can't tell you how disappointed I am.


The Fly said...

Wow, there's a lot of thought and effort that goes into tennis. I always thought it was just a matter of goofy shorts and long hair.