Monday, September 2, 2013

Watching Federer Lose is No Fun

I knew I had to take the 7 train and come to Queens. Sometimes you just know that something important is about to happen and you don't want to miss it. Even though rain had taken out most of the day and action was not to begin until past 5 pm, I was determined to make the trip and see the great Roger Federer play in person. If he lost (which seemed a longshot), I wanted to be there for one of his last appearances in Flushing. If he won, I hoped to see what I saw from Federer in Cincinnati, more improvement and continued movement to his shining self of old. There were difficulties on the travel (specifically a man was grabbed off of my subway car, two feet away from me, by four policemen who then told a woman in Spanish that he was being arrested for "going car by car in the subway, rubbing his genitalia on people"...thankfully I missed out), but when I arrived, Armstrong Stadium was my destination. With Roger Federer playing on the smaller court for the first time since 2006, I was there to make sure Federer did not lose to Tommy Robredo and the dream quarterfinal with Rafael Nadal would come to fruition.

Unfortunately, dreams do not always equal reality. I took my seat in the photographer's row next to the court (the best part of this entire experience...sitting in that position makes you realize the speed and athleticism of these players in a way that television does no justice) and hoped to see vintage Roger. Instead I saw what might be characterized as the worst Roger Federer Grand Slam match in a decade. Think about this for a minute. Federer's career record versus Robredo was a stunning 10-0, and he had only dropped three sets during that entire time period. On Monday night, Federer fell in three straight sets, thus doubling his career set losses to Robredo in just under 150 minutes. While the scoreline was painful (7-6, 6-3, 6-4), what was much worse was the domination of play. Robredo controlled the match from the outset, was the better player throughout and at all points was in control. If one dropped off of another planet and was told they were watching the greatest player to ever play the game, they would have certainly thought his name was "TAH-ME" (the ear-piercing scream by the one Robredo fan in the stadium, seated directly behind me) and not the great Federer.

What had begun as an exciting chance to watch greatness one more time instead became an act of sadness and depression. There is very little less fun than watching Roger Federer play poorly. A man who defined grace and elegance at his peak, tonight played like a struggling mid-50s ranked player, hoping to get a few breaks and sneak through with an upset. I don't like seeing highlights of Ali losing to Spinks and I don't like seeing Roger blow open shots against a Grand Slam journeyman. Federer's forehand completely deserted him, causing countless framed returns and at least four wide open put-aways blown with poor execution. The only thing resembling the Federer of old was the outfit, as Roger's attempted signature shots, from running one-handed backhands, to precise drop volleys routinely missed their targets and put Federer in poor positions. When Roger would hit minutes of the Federer of old, he would then follow it with faltering play, including a key game in the third set, where he went up 0-40 on Robredo's serve, only to lose five straight points, four with unforced errors.

One shouldn't take away anything from Robredo, who afterwards said he played one of the best matches of his life. But people did not come to Armstrong Stadium for a taste of Tommy R (well except possibly one woman sitting three rows up who, when Robredo took of his shirt at a break yelled, "Tommy, come home with me to Long Island and I will put some meat on those bones!"  I don't think he took her up on the offer). The crowd was here to see Roger as he continued to move towards his own form and hoped to set up a Thursday night for the ages. Instead what they saw was a depressing realization of the inevitability of age.  Federer is not yet Willie Mays chasing fly balls in centerfield with the Mets, but for the first time, "human Roger" is upon us. It is no longer just an elite player like Nadal, Djokovic or Murray who can take him out at the elite tournaments. Now he can lose to every Tommy, Dick or Harry that plays at an inspired level and catches him on the right day. Roger is mortal and that is depressing.