A rival steps forward
Cañas defeats Federer again, but let's all remain calm
Posted: Wednesday March 28, 2007 10:39AM; Updated: Wednesday March 28, 2007 11:34AM
You want your constant foil to Roger Federer? I think Guillermo Cañas is making a strong statement. This guy has helped make tennis more exciting for me. Give this guy his props!
Federer loses once, we can chalk it up to a fluke, an adjustment to a new racket, the Fates, global warming, whatever. Federer loses in two consecutive hard-court events to the same guy, and suddenly we have quite a bit of intrigue in the Republic of Tennis.
We've been saying for years that one way to attack Federer is to annoy him, to displace him from his comfort zone. In Cañas, we have a counterpunching veteran who knows plenty of tricks and makes opponents hit ball after ball. Add in the fact that Federer is the ultimate purist and Cañas is coming off a doping suspension -- if you think this isn't a factor, note Federer's remarks from Indian Wells -- and, presto-change-o, we have some drama.
Heading into the clay-court season, most of us figured the overarching question would be whether Federer would win the French. Now, the more immediate question is how will he deal with losing two consecutive events to the same dude.
As Chris notes, Cañas is due some props here. He caught Federer on an off-day in the desert. But on Tuesday in Miami he won a war, a 150-minute momentum-shifter that ended in a third-set tiebreaker. (Not to be overlooked: He served an ace on match point, too.) Pretty strong statement, particularly for a guy banned from competition not that long ago. One has the sense that Slick Guillermo is quietly thinking to himself, Huh? This Federer guy ain't all that. If I hadn't drawn a suspension, I'd be making a run for No. 1!
No one is pushing the proverbial panic button yet. Federer's points lead remains at roughly a googol. He lost two TMS events, but not in Slams. He's won six of the last seven majors. Still, as we head into two months of sandbox tennis, suffice to say the plot has thickened.
Life is getting more and more painful for us Marat Safin fans. What do you think might turn him around -- a new coach perhaps? And whom would you suggest?
Here's the bad news: Safin is a shard of the player he once was, a physically banged up, jaded veteran who's even more of a head case than ever. His results this year suggest a player in inexorable decline. Ready for the good news? A football team with a lousy record is ineligible for the Super Bowl. A soccer team that loses the qualifier can't play in the World Cup. In tennis, any mook ranked in the top 103 or so is eligible for a major. And once that happens, he can embrace a cliché and "catch lighting in a bottle" or "change into Superman in a phone booth" and "get in the zone."
You play two weeks of lights-out tennis, you get some luck along the way, you win seven matches and -- voila -- you're a Grand Slam champ again. Goran Ivanisevic did it at Wimbledon in 2001; Pete Sampras did it at the '02 U.S. Open; Serena Williams did it earlier this year in Australia.
If Safin continues to play as he has, he's on the fast train to retirement. But this guy is such a gifted ball-striker -- and historically so wildly erratic -- that it's not hard to see him screwing his head on straight and adding a third Slam to his C.V. Let's hope so anyway.
As for the coach, the guy has gone through aides-de-camp like George Steinbrenner. He's gone coachless. He's tried part-timers. He's tried potbellied, chain-smoking Russians and former Grand Slam champs like Mats Wilander. It's really up to him. The scouting report his entire career has been: As capable of winning the event as he is of combusting in the first round. Same still holds. Part of the fun of rooting for the guy, I suppose.
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