Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shades of 1996?

Let's see here:

• His winning streak at Wimbledon was broken.

• No new Masters shields or Grand Slam trophies have been added to the mantelpiece.

• The tournaments that have been won were minor, at best.

• His rivals are threatening to take over his number-one ranking after he's had a stranglehold on it for years.

• There's whispers of him being done.

• His coaching situation is precarious.

Everyone knows this to be the case with Roger Federer, right? And that loss to Gilles Simon only adds fuel to the fire. However, I'm not talking about R-Fed.

I'm bringing it way back to the King of Swing, Pete Sampras, circa 1996.

All of the above things were going on with Pistol Pete that year. He suffered one of his earliest Slam losses in years at the Australian Open; Paul Haarhuis beat him in Indian Wells; and his longtime coach, Tim Gullickson, died before the French Open, where Sampras made the semis on willpower alone.

He gets to Wimbledon and Richard Krajicek takes him out as he's trying to go for four in a row. He manages to win a warm-up tournament before the U.S. Open and gets through to the finals at the big one. Waiting for him there is Michael Chang, his old childhood rival, who was playing in his second Slam final of the year and coming closer than ever to the top spot.

What does Pete do? Comes out smokin' and wins in straights! From then on, he pretty much dominates the indoor season, wins another World Championship and quiets any doubts about who the man is.

Federer's had a tough year, and that loss to Simon last night was really bad (it doesn't matter if Simon had just won a tournament while Federer hadn't played since Wimbledon). He should be OK, though, and he's still my favorite for the Open. I think he's made of the same stuff Sampras is and look how '96 and the rest of his career went for him.

(Photo: Getty Images)


freakyfrites said...

Great post, Van! Loved how you introduced it at the start - totally fooled me.

Of course Roger made it to the FO finals this year, so he has Pete beat there. But otherwise, it's eerily similar. The US Open should be interesting - and I think that a best of 5 set contest helps Roger avoid upsets like these.

I'm glad that Roger's sticking around for the doubles in Toronto. As much as I want him to retreat, a little friendly competition and some pre-Beijing dubs practice might give him the lift he needs. (And he and Stan won't have to meet Nadal/Robredo!)

Shelia said...

Poor Roger.

I too still pick him as most likely to win the U.S. Open. Unfortunately though, Roger has never been the same since that lil' hot shot Rafa came along. I swear I think that Rafa carved out a small piece of real estate in Roger's head and now he continuously has this itty bitty teenie weenie bit of doubt whenever he plays.

That said, he's still King of Tennis Mountain, and unless something dramatically changes in his game, most of the players are still in trouble.

van said...

• Hey Freakyfrites! Yeah, I really can't see Federer going out like that in a Slam. And as much as I thought he needed the rest, that is good that he's sticking around and playing the doubles.

• Hey Sheila! I think Rafa does have some place in Rog's head, but I hope it's not throwing him off against other players.

You're right: I think you have to pick him in every match he plays unless it's Rafa on clay.

dootsiez said...

Just popping by to say that I hope you're right. And great blog you've got here. The guy needs some time off to get his mojo back though.

Jodi said...

I think Roger's going to be just fine. You're totally right: this probably wouldn't have happened in a best of five set match, and he really could use the rest! Who knows? It might work to his advantage in the end.

van said...

• Hey Dootsiez, thanks for stopping by and thanks for the comment. He got some unexpected time off here, but maybe it will help.

• Hey Jodi, I think it can really help, too. Maybe his legs will be a little fresher come Open time.

Steve said...

hi Van

You're so right with this post. Sure, its been a bad year for Federer but he'll be back and there are a few more slams in him yet.


hcfoo said...

Hey nice piece here, Van!

Yeah, I think RF will be okay. Once he win at any of the hardcourts during this second half of the season, he will bounce back. Perhaps he should consider getting a coach whom he can look up to.

van said...

Hey Steve and HCfoo! Thanks for the comments! Roger's definitely not done; it's just a little harder now. But he still has plenty left in him to get it done.