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No catching up with Federer
Naresh Kumar
Roger Federer

As 2007 decants into history, Roger Federer glides smoothly into the New Year for his tryst with destiny. Three more Grand Slam titles in 2008 will put him one ahead of Sampras’ 14 and establish him as the greatest ever. The ‘Swiss King’ ended 2007 in a blaze of glory by winning the Shanghai Masters convincingly. After a round robin defeat at the hands of lowly ranked Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, Federer lit the fuse and defeated Davydenko, Roddick and Nadal without losing a set.

Nadal’s muscular resolve could only collect five games in two sets. In the final, Federer humiliated Spain’s 25-year-old 5’9” David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. The terrier-like Ferrer had earlier defeated Nadal in a round robin encounter and beat Roddick in the semi-finals. However, Ferrer, currently ranked fifth in the world, seems far from being a threat to Federer.

Like Nadal he has superb mobility, consistency and tenacity but uses less spin on his shots. Ferrer’s game brought out the best in Federer. The Swiss was at his rhythmic best in that match.Nadal’s vicious spin, the varying strength of which affects both the flight and the bounce of the ball, destroys the rhythm of his opponents. Playing against Nadal one can almost rule out any delicate touch shots due to the heavy spin.

With his taped knees and rumours about a foot problem, one gets the impression that all is not well with Nadal. The physical intensity with which he plays is bound to take a heavy toll on his body.

The much-talked about great rivalry between Nadal and Federer seems to be vaporising. Federer had his wobbles during the year and won only seven titles in 2007 as compared to twelve in 2006. Out of the nine matches he lost this year, only one was of consequence - his loss to Nadal in the final of the French Open.

The 6’2” 20-year-old Serb, Novak Djokovic, ranked No. 3, has had his best year ever and has broken away from the pack chasing Federer and Nadal.

A finalist in the US Open, semi-finalist at Roland Garros and Wimbledon with two ATP Masters victories, Djokovic, a solid all court player, has the strongest credentials among the younger lot to win a major in 2008. He needs to find just that little bit extra.

26-year-old Nikolay Davydenko, the slightly built blond Russian, sent the tennis world to a tizzy with his clean crisp volleys and beautiful timing.

A semi-finalist at Roland Garros and the US Open, Davydenko threw the tennis world into turmoil when he retired 1-2 in the final set against Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello in Sopot, early August. Retiring owing to injury is a common occurrence, but not when some gamblers stand to win a reported ú730,000 on the result.

The bookies refused to pay and inquiries are underway. Davydenko has won close to $8 million in prize money and with endorsements could be worth about $40-50 million. It is improbable and baffling to think that he ‘tanked’ the match for money. John McEnroe, possibly in jest, added a sinister view that the Russian Mafia could be involved.

Andy Roddick, with a supersonic serve and trigger-happy ground shots seems to have been brought to heel by his coach Jimmy Connors.

One wonders if Connors can make him a tad more consistent and train him to play long baseline rallies more often. It is a difficult task as it seems to be against Roddick’s nature.

Roddick goes into the New Year ranked No. 6 with a semi-final appearance in the Shanghai Masters and victory in the Davis Cup over Russia. As usual, he will be a contender for a Grand Slam title. David Nalbandian, the 26-year-old Argentine finished the season with a spectacular flourish. Ranked No. 25, he moved up to No. 9 in little more than a fortnight and missed the Shanghai Masters last eight by a whisker.

Among the younger lot, Richard Gasquet (No. 8) of France and Andy Murray (No. 11) of Great Britain are potential Grand Slam winners and could make a mark in 2008.

Federer can only be defeated when his mind and body can no longer stay at peak.

Playing five days a week for most of the year, being challenged every day by players who have nothing to lose, travelling across continents into different time zones, different surfaces, different food, different light, different languages, compulsory press interviews, sponsorship commitments isn’t all.

While doing all this, the body is being forced to recover from its energy losses and muscle strains. Federer has it all at bay and retained his No.1 spot for the fourth straight year. There is no gauge of what is left in the tank; only fate has the answer.

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