By now you’ve heard, but Roger Federer scored what is being called “one of the biggest wins of his career” today just before dusk at Roland Garros. With the crowd firmly behind him, the sixteen-time major champion certainly reacted like it was one of his bigger wins, and anyone can understand why.
All the talk in the past year has been about the decline of Federer’s game, as he had failed to reach a final in the previous four grand slams. For most players that would be a laughable statistic, but Federer set the bar higher than anyone, and therefore he will continue to be measured against it.
In winning tonight, Federer set up some amazing story lines while simultaneously either killing or delaying some others. On the positive side, there’s the one about how Federer has publicly stated that he wants to beat #1 Rafael Nadal at the French Open. Federer is 0-4 lifetime in this tournament against Nadal. The Swiss master won his only French Open in 2009 after Nadal had been taken out by eventual finalist Robin Soderling. The title gave Federer his long-awaited career grand slam, but many people regarded it with a pseudo-asterisk, saying that he would not have achieved it had it not been for Nadal’s shocking exit. Federer has heard all the talk, and to some degree must know there’s some shreds of truth to it, which is why he has made it a stated goal to finally do the only thing left for a player like him to do: to beat his chief nemesis on the rival’s “home” turf.
The other stated goal that Federer is chasing is the quest to regain the world #1 ranking. Part of me thinks that a player of Federer’s accomplishment would be content with his career and just try to gear up for some grand slam runs, but Federer has said recently that he very much wants to become #1 again. To do this, Federer would have to play a regular schedule, which means no taking extended time off in between majors. I have not researched the numbers, so I’m not exactly sure how attainable this goal is for Federer by year’s end, but I do know that a lot of what tennis rankings are based on is how far a player progresses in a given tournament compared to how far that player progressed at the same tournament in the prior year. With that in mind, Federer did have a disappointing year in 2010, and therefore left the door open for some improvements upon those finishes in 2011. Federer busted out in the quarterfinals at both the French Open and Wimbledon last year, while losing in the semifinals at the U.S. Open. The hardcourt season seems miles away right now, and all Federer can do is worry about the next match, but if he can make the finals in both Paris and London (of which he has already achieved the more difficult for him), his tale of two cities can set the stage for a serious jump in the ATP rankings. Add on the possibility of Nadal failing to defend all of his points here, at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, all of which he won in 2010, and Federer’s goal of regaining the world #1 ranking doesn’t seem like quite as much of a pipe dream.
But while Federer’s goals are alive and well, Novak Djokovic had one dream die today and another put on hold. Nole came into today’s semifinal 41-0 on the season. It has been well documented that the greatest start in men’s tennis history was John McEnroe’s 42-0 start to the 1984 season. Not only is that record safe another year, but probably won’t be approached again for quite some time. The other effect of Djokovic’s loss is that he probably will not be the #1 ranked player on Monday. A win today would have guaranteed Djokovic his first world #1 ranking, but he had that door pushed closed by the most fitting opponent. Nole can still be #1 next week, but he will need Federer to defeat Nadal on Sunday for the French Open championship.
We are now set up for the most anticipated French Open final in at least 25 years, and possibly in the entire Open Era (1968 – present). Nadal will be looking for his sixth French Open title in seven years, while Federer has his shot to put the icing on the cake and do the only thing he has yet to do: beat Nadal at Roland Garros. The championship match is Sunday at 3 p.m. Paris time, which is 9 a.m. ET in the U.S. The match is on NBC, about 10 hours after the network will carry Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. I hope you are able to catch both mammoth events.