When you join the growing list of Novak Jokovic’s fans and search Youtube for his many videos, you will find that he does a few brilliantly funny ones of Maria Sharapova (“just friends”), Andy Roddick, Goran Ivanisevic, Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal. They’re complete with mannerisms and all. He does not even stop at Rafa’s tugging at his shorts from butt-crack bit.
Then he does a Roger Federer. Its unique. No mockery or imitation of serve here. He impersonates Roger’s victory ritual. There is a certain piety in performance that somehow bars even humour from crossing a line of reverence.
Roger Federer’s career records are already beginning to sound like the Guinness Book. In 2004, he became the first player since 1988 to win three Grand Slam titles the same year. In 2006, he became the only player in the Open era to repeat it and this year he’s done it yet again. In 2007, by winning his third Australian Open title, he became the only male player to have won three separate Grand Slam tournaments at least three times. By winning Wimbledon in ’07, Federer tied Bjorn Borg’s open-era record of five consecutive Wimbledon championships. By reaching the 2007 U.S. Open final, he became the only player to have reached the finals of all four Grand Slam tournaments for two consecutive years. By winning the US Open, Federer became the only player in the Open Era to win four consecutive U.S. Open titles. He is the only male player to have won three Grand Slam singles titles in a calendar year three times and the only player ever to have won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open back-to-back for four consecutive years. At the US Open, Federer reached his tenth consecutive Grand Slam singles final – an all-time record in men’s tennis.
Must be getting boring, Roger?
“It’s important for me in my stage in my career to prove myself,” he says “And this was a perfect opportunity against Djokovic, also against Andy. I was coming into the U.S. Open after Nadal played so well at Wimbledon. It was time for me to prove myself again and I achieved it, so it was kind of a good feeling inside.”
He’s now won 12 of his 14 Grand Slam finals. And that now puts him ahead of Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg. I’ll repeat that. Ahead of Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg. So what makes a guy who’s been number 1 for 189 weeks (longest ever for any player – male or female) win the last three rounds of a Grand Slam in straight sets, when he’s by all accounts not playing at his best ?
There is this one target. Pete Sampras’ 14.
After the US Open…
Q. Today Tiger Woods shot a 63 and had a come‑from‑behind victory in a tournament. He has said that you are the most dominant athlete in sports. What do you make of what he said on the day that you’ve just won your 12th slam?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, it’s very kind, you know. Of course, you know, I love getting compliments from Tiger because they do mean something to me. It’s great to see him winning, as well. It’s always the best if we win at the same time, you know.
I hope he can keep his great run up, beat Jack Nicklaus’ record. I’m chasing down Sampras. For me it’s a lot of fun, being compared with Tiger, who is the greatest. I’ll leave that up to the audience. But my last few years have been incredible.
Q. You passed Borg and Laver today with your 12th. How much do you think about the Sampras record? How badly do you want it?
ROGER FEDERER: I think about it a lot now, honestly. In the beginning I was ‑‑ I felt pushed a little bit in the corner, put under pressure about the situation because you don’t win slams like that, it’s just too tough.
I feel these two and a half weeks, it’s so draining. I’m exhausted in the end. It’s a great relief, you know, just to finally maybe have a good night’s sleep without thinking about the upcoming five‑setter I have to play. So I know how tough it is.
So to come so close already at my age is fantastic, and I really hope to break it.
Q. When you’re done, how many do you think you’ll have?
ROGER FEDERER: Don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean, I hope more than Pete (smiling).
How must Pete Sampras feel? These were imprints on tennis courts. Not footprints on sands to be washed away by the next wave.
“I did all I could do in the ’90s, and I really thought the 14 would be tough to beat. Little did I know Roger would come along and dominate the way he has — and that could last a while longer,” says Pete , “If there’s a player and a person that I’d like to see break this, it would be Roger. He’s a great guy. Lets his racket do the talking. One of those humble champions I like.”
They’ve played competitive tennis once. At Wimbledon in 2001. Federer won 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5. Pete Sampras had never lost a 5 set match at Wimbledon before. They’ve since played at the courts at Pete’s LA home. Roger says he’s not saying who won but that it was competitive in the tie breaks….
Roger Federer and Pete Sampras are to play a three game exhibition series in Asia in the third week of November and then a big exhibition game at Madison Square garden on March 10. By which time Roger Federer would have had a chance to win his fourth Australian Open and 13th slam. And he’ll be knocking on the door. Pete Sampras is keen. “I still serve well. Roger’s Roger. It’s going to hopefully be competitive tennis,” Sampras said. “We both wanted to do it because our names have been linked and will be linked for the next couple of years.”
Meanwhile, for the craft of writing, research, ideas, execution and the sheer guts to try it, here’s an old piece by Rohit Brijnath. Its dated 2005 and its a fictional match between Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
Read. Enjoy. Bookmark. Celebrate.