Sunday, June 07, 2009


Roger Federer had been the world's number-one rated men's tennis player since 2004 until the summer of 2008. Sometime after losing a five-set final at Wimbledon to Rafael Nadal, called the greatest match in history by many folks who know more about the sport than this blogger, Federer slipped to number two.

Since becoming number two, Federer has done the following. He won two of the next three Grand Slam tournaments, and lost to Nadal in another amazing five-setter in the other one. He finally beat Nadal on clay, in Spain, no less. And today, Federer won the French Open, the one Slam he had yet to win. If that is not the definition of "competitor," what on earth is?

Federer has lost a great many matches since last Wimbledon, and his Slam victories are almost the only tourneys he's won. Like that matters. On the championship stage, he remains a champion. Not quite as dominant as two or three years ago, picking his spots, Federer isn't as good as he used to be, but he's greater. I would argue it's what has happened since the 2008 All England final that is Federer's strongest point in his very strong case as the finest tennis player of all time.

To me, at least, the defining moments for great athletes and teams is what they do after their sports get hard for them. Muhammed Ali couldn't be touched in the 1960s. The Thrilla in Manila, the bout that basically wrecked him, gave him as much nobility as a brutal game has to offer. The 1986 Celtics were way, way better than the 1987 Celts, but the latter club was far more glorious in their ultimate defeat. This will be the most interesting season of Tom Brady's career-whatever happens.

Being number two in the world in an individual sport makes you rich, famous, and otherwise sucks. Ask Phil Mickelson how much it is. Federer fell off the top spot he had reached through almost effortless dominance. His reaction speaks for itself.

Or rather, it sings.


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