Facing a Slam shutout, Federer shows he may be the greatest ever
NEW YORK -- Feted as the four-time and defending U.S. Open champion throughout the duration of his American fortnight, Roger Federer returned to the site of his past glories Monday evening.
A full year since he last held high a Grand Slam trophy, here he was, defying the unsettled ATP scene to land winners on Arthur Ashe Stadium's firm ground. In front of Tom Brokaw and Gotham's glitterati, the 12-time Grand Slam winner secured No. 13, dismissing scruffy-faced Scotsman Andy Murray and proving once again that he is his generation's greatest, and perhaps the best the game has ever known.
"I felt like I was invincible for a while again," Federer said after his easy 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 triumph.
By the time the second set was over, obituary writers could sense that their copy was not going to appear in the next day's paper. In the face of headlines prematurely announcing his imminent decline, Federer, who was without a Grand Slam title this late in the year for the first time in four years, allowed his eminence to emerge.
Federer breezed past the 21-year-old Murray in the opening set, outlasted his rundown opponent in the second and briskly put an end to Murray's dreams of a first Grand Slam title in the third.
"I said that I agreed with everyone that he's had a terrible year," joked Murray, when asked what he said to Federer at the net afterward.
Staring before the match at a title-less Slam season, Federer found redemption under the lights. Like a campaign rally organized to champion the candidate of their backing, the Friends of Federer made their way out to Flushing en masse. In the stands, starlets (Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway), Penguins (Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby) and fashonistas (Oscar De LaRenta, Anna Wintour) stood and applauded. It was Federer, though, the star of stars, who walked the red carpet to receive the cup-shaped, Tiffany's-polished championship trophy.
"Cab drivers here scream out that I'm still the guy," Federer said of playing in New York. "There's a warmth here."
Seemingly on the cusp of staking claim to Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles at the majors' season start in January, Federer began the year with a bout of mono before falling in Melbourne to the upstart Serbian mimic, Novak Djokovic. Unwilling to bemoan his ills, Federer bulled through, holding his head high as he marched to Paris, only to watch his game run dry on the clay against then-No. 2 Rafael Nadal.
"The French Open loss was brutal," Federer said.
While the first two hurt, the third loss left him in tears. At Wimbledon, the chic Federer, who wore a $500 white cardigan on the lawns, could not fashion enough winners to capture his sixth straight championship trophy, falling again to Nadal at his favorite tournament.
"I was proud to be a part of such a great match," Federer said. "It just sort of made me sad not winning that epic match."
Next on his trail of tears was Beijing. Not to be lost in his failure to win gold on the singles side of the Olympics tournament was his ability to refocus and bring home gold in the doubles. Still, that win was not enough to combat the inevitable loss of his No. 1 ranking.
"To bounce back straightaway after losing my ranking is the best case ever," Federer said.
His win in America also showed that Federer is coping with a new set of players. Murray, the lanky Scot who lives in London and trains in Florida, held a 2-1 record against Federer, but those wins had come in the settings of Dubai and Cincinnati, not New York. Just like Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic before him, Murray fell victim to Federer on center stage.
"I think the guys coming up right now, they've sort of broken through," Federer said of Murray, who rose to No. 4 in the world rankings before taking the court.
With flashbulbs still popping and camera phones capturing glimpses of the champion before he departed, Federer made his way to the locker room. As security lined the hallways of the stadium's inner bowels and pushed back fans seeking one last look, one guard said, "You folks saw him all week, there's no difference seeing him now."
They had, in fact, seen him before, but this viewing was different. Left for dead by some, Federer was alive and well Monday. The Doubting Thomases, unable to touch the wounds of his previous losses, witnessed him rise again. "I'm not going to stop at 13," Federer said.
Once alone with family, Federer and friends sipped champagne and celebrated as all else was put on hold.
"In the past I would come out right away and by the time I got back everyone was gone and had to leave," Federer said. "I always knew that if I were to get one Slam under my belt, especially the last one, things weren't looking that bad like everybody was talking about."