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Without Peer

In winning his fourth straight U.S. Open crown and 12th Grand Slam title, Roger Federer left little doubt that no one in the world does anything as well as he plays tennis

Posted: Tuesday September 11, 2007 11:29AM; Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2007 11:29AM
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In the final Federer summoned his best tennis at critical instances to hold off crowd favorite Djokovic.
In the final Federer summoned his best tennis at critical instances to hold off crowd favorite Djokovic.
Manny Millan/SI

The moment of consolation came late at the 2007 U.S. Open, but it was not for Roger Federer's latest victim. This one was for the crowd, for the 25,230 unsuspecting fans who had come to Flushing Meadows to take in a New York spectacle, watch some tennis and overpay for food and drink, and who suddenly found themselves lacking. This one was for those who'd tracked Federer's elegant ride into history for the last two weeks, who'd seen him rise to every challenge with otherworldly calm and brush aside all comers like lint off a lapel.

"Congratulations, Roger!" one miserable soul had yelled after one of his wins. "I hate you!" Who wouldn't feel inferior when faced with such imperious talent? Federer's opponent on Sunday, the dynamic and doomed Novak Djokovic, had dubbed Federer "the untouchable one" and was now, stroke by hapless stroke, proving the point. After a while it became impossible not to scan all the famous faces in Arthur Ashe Stadium and engage in pop culture's newest reality show: Roger Federer Is Better Than You .

There sat Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, rocker Gavin Rossdale and mogul Donald Trump. Sorry, boys, but here's the truth: Federer plays tennis better than you act, rock and mogul. But don't worry. Plenty of boldfaced names paraded to the Open -- Chevy Chase, Liza Minnelli, James Taylor, Christie Brinkley, Vera Wang, Michael Bloomberg, Charles Gibson -- and they too came up short. With his 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory in the final, the 26-year-old Federer has won four straight U.S. Opens to go with his five consecutive Wimbledons, has taken 12 Grand Slam singles titles in just five years and is only two away from Pete Sampras's record of 14. Hey, Tiger, with your 13 majors over 11 years, relax and join the club. You'll have to search long and hard to find anyone who does something as well, with more style and less effort, as Federer plays tennis.

"A lot of times you don't understand how he can do it," says the 2007 U.S. Open women's singles champion, Justine Henin. "The way he covers the court, it's like he's never forcing his game. He's everywhere. His attitude never changes -- winning, losing, if he doesn't play well -- he's very calm. He is going to be the best player ever. I don't see anyone who can stop him now."

No one does, and the ease of his conquests can be daunting for the rest of us mortals. After all, Federer won this major -- just as he won Wimbledon in July, just as he won six others -- without a coach. "I don't need to sit down and talk about an opponent for an hour," he said after sweeping aside No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko to reach his record 10th straight Grand Slam final. "Takes me basically 15 seconds [to come up with a game plan]. I know everything I need to know."

So when that moment of consolation came Sunday, with Federer up two sets to love and leading 4-3 on Djokovic's serve, who could blame the fans for reacting the way they did? At 30-all, Federer raced to net, homed in on a sure winner -- and, like any Sunday hacker, dumped his forehand volley into the net. The crowd sent up a celebratory roar, the loudest of the match. Federer was shocked, but how could he possibly understand? If only for a second, there was this comforting revelation: He's human too! It didn't last, of course. Two games later Federer punished Djokovic for caving on the seven set points he had squandered in the first two sets, breaking him with the same vicious backhand that had torn up every other opponent this fortnight, and reclaiming the U.S. Open title and the crowd's collective awe.

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