Federer’s 16th Grand Slam title proves he’s the greatest ever

Somehow, Federer just keeps getting better. After beating Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11) in the 2010 Australian Open final, I now have a new appreciation for the most dominant tennis player of all time. He looked absolutely phenomenal over the course of the 2 hour and 41 minute match, never losing that perplexing calm that’s fascinated fans and irritated opponents for years. This is Federer’s 16th Grand Slam title overall, and that obviously justifies his talent. But it was the way he ambushed Andy Murray on the big stage that should make people perk up and realize his greatness.

Watching the 22-year-old Murray struggle from the opening set put everything in perspective. When Federer was that age, he broke through at the 2003 Wimbledon to capture his first Grand Slam championship. That was his first appearance in a Grand Slam final, and he’s found his way into 21 of the last 26 since then. He knew that this is where he belonged. While Murray certainly belongs as well, I can no longer claim that he deserves a championship. Before meeting Federer, Murray walked over all of his opponents at this tournament, only once needing to take a match past three sets (his semifinal against Marin Cilic). It was an admirable run, but given the lack of wear and tear, I expected him to come out fresh and energetic in the final. About to drop the second set, Murray began to grab his right leg in between points. Murray was seen nursing different areas, whether it be his thigh, knee, or toe. Still, it never seemed legitimate. When things started to go his way during the third set, the pain suddenly sufficed. Strange how that happens. Whimpering like Murray did suggests that you’re only losing because you’re not at full strength. Federer has far too much pride to pull something like that. When facing a large deficit, he simply relies on his talent to get him back in the match.

Of course, Murray wouldn’t have been whimpering if the first place if he were in control from the beginning. In his quarterfinal victory over Rafael Nadal, Murray never mellowed his attack, serving with accuracy and hitting with aggression during volleys. What happened to that confidence in the biggest match of his life? During those first two sets, Murray served terribly, had weak groundstrokes, and cracked under pressure at the net. Playing defensively, he curiously waited for Federer to make mistakes, which didn’t happen enough. When he turned up the intensity in the third set, it was far too late.

Noticing his opponent’s retreat, Federer was free to strike at will, landing 28 winners compared to Murray’s 12. As Murray stuck to the baseline, Federer employed drop shots and came to the net. He completely owned the court. As for his serve, it was staggering as usual.

I don’t know when exactly Federer is going to relinquish his crown, but if his recent performance against Andy Murray is any indication, it shouldn’t be for a while.


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Can Murray beat Federer at the Australian Open?

Andy Murray is a player with all the talent in the world, but has lacked the magic that helps one prevail in a Grand Slam. He’s faced criticism ever since he cracked the top 10 in the world rankings. Experts think he lacks the ambition and stamina that the decorated players possess. I’ve never thought that was true. After losing an important match, I always notice a look of shame on Murray’s face. I just think the pressure can become a bit too much for him when progressing towards a Grand Slam final. His self-doubt must arise when people openly ponder when his time will come. Of course, Murray is just 22 years old, so it’s unfair to call his career a lost cause. Murray will eventually capture a Grand Slam — everyone expects it. Tennis fans are just tired of waiting.

Murray has breezed through the 2010 Australian Open. In the fourth round, he defeated 33rd seed John Isner in straight sets. The quarterfinals posed a much tougher challenge in Rafael Nadal, last year’s champion. Murray was incredible in the first set, sending Nadal all over the court. It looked to be a gigantic upset. However, Nadal rebounded in the second set and suddenly we had a match. The set went into a tiebreak, which Murray took. To everyone’s disappointment, Nadal later retired the match. Nevertheless, it’s our own fault for immediately crediting the outcome to Nadal’s injuries rather than Murray’s excellence. Even though Nadal’s knees got the best of him, this was Murray’s match to be had. In the semifinals, Murray took on Marin Cilic, a young Croatian coming off a spectacular five-set win against Andy Roddick. Murray was yet to drop a set, but everyone prepared for him to collapse as he usually does at this point in a Grand Slam. When Cilic won the first set, it didn’t look good. However, whether driven by the skeptics, his pride, or both, Murray immediately gained control and took the next three sets.

Now, as per usual, Roger Federer is waiting in the final. The Grand Slams were made in Federer’s image and Murray knows it. The last time these two met in a Grand Slam final was at the 2008 U.S. Open. Things did not turn out well for Murray as he was routed by Federer in straight sets. Strangely enough, Murray holds a 6-4 overall record against Federer. However, as Federer is quick to point out, only one of those was a five-setter, that being his victory at the U.S. Open.

Simply put, Murray needs the energy to play up to four or even five hours. Murray is one of the few players that matches up well with Federer. He’s able to read Federer’s groundstrokes, which prevents him from having to chase after the ball. His overally game has improved, but that isn’t going to be enough. This match is going into the fifth set. If Murray is prepared to go the distance, he might walk away with his first Grand Slam championship.


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Williams sisters making it look easy at Australian Open

The Williams sisters are enjoying their time down under. Neither has dropped a set in their six total matches and are likely to meet in the semifinals.

From ESPN.com:

Serena Williams moved a step closer to successfully defending her Australian Open title and extracted some family revenge Saturday with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Carla Suarez Navarro.

Last year, Suarez Navarro beat Venus Williams in the second round and made it to the quarterfinals.

The Spaniard didn’t even get close this time, and the Williams sisters remained on course for a semifinal meeting when Venus held off Australia’s Casey Dellacqua 6-1, 7-6 (4), closing with an ace on her third match point.

Although I would have liked to see the sisters in the final, this will suffice. In fact, a perfect final would have Serena squaring off against Justine Henin, the seven-time Grand Slam champion who’s making her return to tennis after retiring in 2008. Henin has a record of 6-7 against Serena, which is far better than most.


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Nadal-Federer renew their rivalry at the Australian Open

Their epic Wimbledon final from last summer seems like a long time ago but Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will renew their rivalry once again this evening as they vie for the men’s title at the Australian Open. This will be their seventh showdown in a Grand Slam final and it’s quickly becoming a must-see rivalry not unlike the Red Sox-Yankees or Lakers-Celtics for all sports fans.

Losing his #1 ranking in the world after Nadal’s thrilling victory in England has been a major catalyst in the revitalization of Federer’s career. He has added intensity and motivation to his smooth, effortless return volley game and hasn’t lost a match at a Grand Slam tournament (including a U.S. Open title last September) since Wimbledon.

Federer will be making his 18th appearance in a Grand Slam final and a victory Sunday evening in Melbourne will put him even with Pete Sampras at 14 Grand Slam tournament victories. His hard-court surface record is also very impressive, as Federer has won seven of the last eight Grand Slam tournaments played on that surface, including winning five straight U.S. Open titles.

The tennis world anointed Nadal as the new king of the sport last summer. The young Spaniard emerged at a time when tennis needed someone to challenge Federer’s dominance. Nadal will never emulate Roger’s play on the court, his sweating and grunting and his fist-pumping, emotional style are all big parts of his game. His top spin forehand shot will be taught to future generations for years to come.

The key to Nadal’s long-term success will be his play on hard-court surfaces. On clay, he has no equal, but Nadal’s improved play on the hard court and grass last year helped him take over tennis’ #1 ranking. Winning Wimbledon was a memorable moment in Nadal’s career, but winning on the hard-court in Melbourne tonight would be just as impressive.

The tennis world was bracing for an unknown to knock off Nadal or Federer, but for the past two weeks they reminded everyone just how good they are. The match is on in the wee hours of Sunday morning (3:30 AM ET) on ESPN2 here in the U.S., but the network is replaying the match later in the morning.

Australian Open Women’s Finals Preview

Serena Williams (2) vs. Dinara Safina (3)

serenaAt 27 years of age, Serena Williams has seen more success than all the players on the WTA Tour combined. She has won nine singles Grand Slams and, after yesterday’s championship victory, eight doubles Grand Slams with her sister Venus. She’s been on the Tour so long that a distinctive pattern has emerged particular to the Australian Open: if it’s an odd-numbered year, Serena will win the tournament. She’s previously claimed the title in Melbourne in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Despite playing doubles and having to endure the sweltering heat, Serena has played well in every match and shown no signs of fatigue.

Her opponent is Dinara Safina, an aggressive Russian with a powerful forehand, an endless supply of energy, and an outspoken dedication to winning. It’s fun to watch her at press conferences as it almost pains her to play the sweetheart. Safina has never won a Grand Slam, though this is supposed to be her breakout year. But that’s a bunch of bunk — just about every player on the WTA Tour is supposedly having their breakout year. There’s such parity that nearly every player ranked in the top 10 will surpass world #1 Jelena Jankovic after this tournament. (Jankovic failed to make it past the fourth round.) Safina is the obvious underdog. She’s lost her last two matches to Serena in straight sets. If she were playing anybody other than Serena, I’d say she had this one in the bag.

Live coverage of the women’s finals will air early tomorrow morning (Saturday) on ESPN2 at 3:30 AM ET. It will then be replayed on Saturday at 9 AM ET and 8 PM ET on the same network.

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