Is greatness slipping away from Roger Federer?

The record book will show that Roger Federer won the 2008 U.S. Open Men’s Championship over Andy Murray. But something is missing. His dominance in the sport hasn’t been noticeable this year. Let’s just face it; Roger Federer is not Roger Federer anymore.

Wait a minute, a terrible year? How many players on the men’s tour would take a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, two finals appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon, and a Grand Slam victory at the U.S. Open, all in the same year?

Is Federer dominating? No. We are not used to seeing him struggle in the early rounds. What use to be a brisk workout for him has now become nervy five-set encounter. Federer’s brilliance ultimately prevails, but never once does he look like he’s in control of the match.

So what has changed in his game? Well, Federer is not setting up balls for the kill shot that usually keeps his opponents’ off-balance. Balls that have rocketed off his racket in the past are now just dribbling over the net as a return or an unimpressive point. Instead of ripping through sets, he is now winning a series of mini-marathons.

The last set of his semi-final match against Novak Djokovic on Saturday was reminiscent of the old Federer. He regained his cross-court backhand that, in years past, would go by his opponent like a shortstop reaching for a line drive off a hitter’s bat.

Maybe Federer won’t return to the #1 ranking, and maybe he’s not a sure thing anymore on the tour. His dominance is slipping. But Federer did remind everyone this weekend at Flushing that he still has a few bullets left in his racket. Was this a return to greatness or just a brief glimpse of the past?

Only time will tell.

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Reign Man: Federer beats Murray for 5th straight U.S. Open title

No matter what was said or written about his recent play, Roger Federer knew he had one more chance to salvage a disappointing season. After missed opportunities in the French Open and Wimbledon finals, Federer easily defeated Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 on Monday evening to win his fifth consecutive U.S. Open Championship.

Murray didn’t feel fatigue contributed to his straight set defeat. Instead, he felt his defense stance behind the baseline was no match for Federer’s offensive game. And the final numbers do not lie about his dominance in every facet of this final. Federer accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winning shots, a 7-2 lead in service breaks, and winning a point on 31 of 44 trips to the net.

Murray had less than 24 hours to prepare for the men’s finals after defeating the World’s #1 player Rafael Nadal in a rain-interrupted semifinal that concluded late Sunday afternoon.

Federer became the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920’s to win this tournament five times in a row. He also upped his Grand Slam tally to 13, which puts Federer one behind the men’s record holder Pete Sampras.

U.S. Open Women’s Final Preview: Serena Williams vs. Jelena Jankovic

Serena WilliamsIt’s been six years since an American-born woman has played in a U.S. Open singles final. That match featured one of the earliest showdowns between the Williams sisters. At just 21 years of age, that was Serena’s second U.S. Open championship. Now, close to her 27th birthday, she’s gunning for her third against Serbian Jelena Jankovic. Though Jankovic has advanced to three Grand Slam semifinals this year, her match tomorrow against Serena will be the first Grand Slam final of her career. The two have the most powerful serves in the game, a skill which can produce numerous unforced errors by their opponents. Both are patient and able to sustain extended volleys as well. If Serena can consistently rush the net and get ahead early, she’s the favorite. The key to Jankovic’s success will be her placement; if she can pinpoint her crosscourt volleys and keep Williams on the run, we’ll have a new U.S. Open champion. Either way, we’re guaranteed a new #1 ranked women’s player.

The match will air Saturday at 7 PM ET on CBS.

Where have all the great American male tennis players gone?

It’s no great revelation that America’s top male players are not really considered a threat to win any of the Grand Slams. When it comes to tournament play, quality U.S. players are a dying breed, and the numbers do not lie. With no American in the U.S. Open men’s semi-finals this weekend, it will be the 16th straight Grand Slam event without a U.S. men’s winner.

Andy Roddick has become the poster boy of U.S. tennis in the post-Sampras and Agassi era. Is he bitter? Hardly, Roddick has found some solace in trying to lead the Americans with his meat and potatoes power game against the sophisticated style that has dominated tennis for years. And he holds the claim of being the last U.S. winner of a Grand Slam event; he won the 2003 U.S. Open final.

James Blake has been somewhat of a disappointment on the men’s tour. He is often noted for his athleticism, which many believe should enable him to win a Grand Slam. Instead, he plants himself on the end line and tries to become a straight-ahead basher, which just negates his speed.

It’s not only that the U.S. contenders have retired or currently slumping, but the pipeline of potential tennis stars is as thin as ever. A quick glance at the top ten players at the 16-17 years old level and you will not see an American name on the list.

There was a time when pro tennis players came from one of three global regions, Australia, Western Europe, or the United States. Today, the top two men’s singles players are a Spaniard (Rafael Nadal) and a Swiss (Roger Federer).

Tennis has grown everywhere else on the globe except in the United States. Many in tennis feel youngsters have shied away from the sport due to the popularity of action sports (skateboarding or other X Game-style events) in American culture. Tennis fans anticipated the drop-off of American players in the sport because of the lack of depth produced by the U.S. tennis academies. If the U.S. hopes to produce more male champions, that’s where it’s going to happen.

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