it’s getting tougher for federer

Posted on January 20, 2008

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Roger Federer has been served notice – he is the bull’s eye everyone is aiming for, not just of those ranked at the top of the tennis pack with him but even the less heralded players.

While the world’s top tennis player, and some regard as the best of all time, is chasing history, Federer’s opponents are getting closer to chasing him down and denying him of beating Pete Sampras’ record of winning Grand Slam championships. Sampras collected a total of 14 Grand Slams, while Federer has already bagged 12. With his eye on the history books, he is hoping to surpass Sampras’ record this year, especially with one of the wins at Roland Garros, which has hitherto eluded him.

But the path to history is looking thornier these days for the Swiss maestro.

“You have to believe that you’re going to beat Roger Federer when you go on court, as stupid as it might sound. If you go out there thinking, ‘I’m going to play a good match, make him sweat for his money’ or something like that, it’s not going to work. Because then when the chances are given to you, and even Roger Federer is giving chances, you’re not going to use them because you’re going to be too afraid for victory. So I went on court with the idea that I can win,” the latest challenger, Serbia’s Janko Tipsaravic, told the media after coming this close to beating Federer just a day ago at the Australian Open.

With a confident and aggressive game plan, Tipsaravic was able to stretch Federer hard and forced him to play his longest match ever, a five-set thriller lasting 4 hours and 27 minutes. And that was just the third round of the tournament. In contrast, Federer won last year’s Australian Open without dropping a single set in the entire tournament. The noose is tightening around Federer.

Which would mean that the rest of the tournament is probably going to be harder for him, as upcoming opponents take heart from his near-upset by Tipsaravic, fight a little harder and have a little more self-belief against a Federer who seems more human now.

But these contenders should do well to take heed of how much reserves and confidence Federer has, even in the face of such stiff resistance.

For one, his physical condition is impressive, especially as he is coming off a bout of flu that plagued him just before the Australian Open and entered the tournament without the benefit of playing in warm-up matches. While the younger Tipsaravic was visibly tiring in the final set and grunting with every shot, Federer seemed as fresh as he was at the start of the match.

The part Federer’s opponents might find hardest to overcome is his mental edge. At no point during the match with Tipsaravic did he seem ruffled, even at two sets down. He just seemed to find a response to everything that Tipsaravic threw at him. A sign of his mental steel is his serve. In the face of an unyielding opponent, Federer responded by serenely firing off aces, recording a personal best of 39 staggering aces. And right after losing a set, Federer came back to thrash Tipsaravic’s resolve in the fourth set with a 6-1 score.

Nevertheless, the match had given away to Federer’s adversaries a chink in the mighty Swiss’ armor – that he can be suppressed from the baseline. You can bet that the match would be rewatched countlessly as opponents continue trying to figure out how to crack Federer.

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