Australian Open: Roger Federer—Free Again


By Bill Simons

FREE AGAIN: In 2008, Novak Djokovic’s mother said of Federer, “The King is Dead.” Now Federer has a new racket, a new coach, a new improved level of fitness. He and his wife have a new baby on the way, and after his impressive, “move free” four-set win over a brave Andy Murray, he has now reached his 11th straight Australian Open semifinal. Last year was all about the return of the injured and hobbled Nadal. Federer’s fate was more subtle. The affects of age are subtle. His back problems weren’t that apparent. But his early renewal here has been a wonder. Two words come to mind: free again. Josh Gajewski, an admitted Fed fan, put it this way. “Roger just seems so much sharper, crisper than last year. Looks like he has real confidence in the new frame, whereas last year he was always thinking/pressing with it.. And he’s slinging both first and second serves at will with no thought or pressure again, just looks fre. That’s the especially big thing—he’s been mowing through his service games with almost no pressure for the most part. It’s automatic again. The feet look fresh (probably because the back isn’t a bother now), and if Edberg is doing anything, that attacking net game has been looking extremely sharp whenever he’s gone to it.

Of course, the Bull awaits, bloody hand and all. Different mountain, still the favorite, but this is the first time in, what, two years, where I’ve gone into a Rafa match excited to see it rather than afraid to see it, believing RF has a real shot.”

THIS IS ARTISTRY: Chris Bowers noted, “A lovely [Federer] chopped volley to the corner, this is artistry”

TIMES CHANGE: The heat left Melbourne.
The upsets arrived gradually, then in bursts. Yes, Juan Martin del Potro and Venus Williams lost early. But over the first five days of the AO, form more or less held. Then, within 24 hours, the two most charismatic players in the game—No. 1 Serena Williams, and No. 3 Maria Sharapova—were dismissed. A few days later, in another 24-hour span, both defending champions—Novak Djokovic, who’d won three straight AO titles; and Victoria Azarenka, who’d won two in a row—were beaten. Going into the semifinals, the big three of women’s tennis—Serena, Victoria, and Maria—are all gone. Li Na is the only remaining woman who has won a Slam. Agnieszka Radwanska, who has been a wonder and a relentless competitor, reached the 2012 Wimbledon final. We could actually have a teen champion, Eugenie Bouchard. And “The Pocket Rocket,” Dominika Cibulkova, is looking sharp.

UNDERDOG DAYS: In five straight quarterfinals, underdogs prevailed: Eugenie Brouchard over Ana Ivanovic, Tomas Berdych over David Ferrer, Stan Wawrinka over Novak Djokovic, Dominika Cibulkova over Simona Halep, and Agnieszka Radwanska over Victoria Azarenka.

HOW MUCH DOES ROGER CARE? Back at his hotel, Federer was watching his fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka’s match on TV. At crunch time, he was so tense he had to stand up, and when Wawrinka finally won, there were fist pumps and high-fives all around with his wife, Mirka.

THE DISTRACTIONS OF RAFA NADAL: Nadal, who loves soccer and fishing, is a great golfer, and a two-time champion poker player. In Melbourne, he was spotted playing blackjack at the Crown Casino. BTW: Years ago when the Chilean Marcello Rios was on the tour, word was that he had to reach the Aussie Open final just to pay his Crown Casino debt.

FAST HEALER: Four months ago, Wimbledon champ Andy Murray was flat on his back and couldn’t move after back surgery. Today, Murray stated the obvious, saying, “I have come a long way in four months.”

COMMENTARY OF THE DAY: After Grigor Dimitrov ran halfway across the court to chase down a Rafa volley, he stretched out with a rugged split that had none of Kim
Clijsters’ grace. At which point, a clipped Aussie voice in the press section said, “He’s not signing up for the ballet class” … After three hours of the MurrayFederer match, broadcaster Richard Evans spotted Murray’s coach in the stands and said, “Ivan Lendl is looking a little sleepy. Maybe it’s past his bedtime.”

DIMITROV TO THE RACES?: Grigor Dimitrov, 22, reached his first Slam quarterfinal, and impressed as he took the opening set off of Nadal. Still raw, with a lot of upsides, one senses he is a force that will have to be reckoned with.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PIC? Rafa is such a humble guy, yet courtside, Dimitrov’s Bulgarian fans, just 25 yards or so from the Spaniard, were in his grill. Eventually, the polite pro-Nadal crowd had enough, yelling “Sit down!” and “Shut up!” and their own pro-Rafa chants, which much of the throng picked up on.

WHAT THE ATP’S NADAL AND THE 49ers COLIN KAEPERNICK HAVE IN COMMON: Aside from being fantastic athletes, both have problems getting the ball in play on time.

BLISTERING TENNIS: Could Nadal possibly win the AO, even with his horrific blister? He says it doesn’t bother him on his forehand, but does affect his serve, where he sometimes feels as if he is losing his racket.

THE BORIS BAROMETER: Many feel Boris Becker doesn’t bring much to the Djokovic camp. An opening argument: for the first time in 15 Slams, Nole failed to reach the semis.

WHAT LENDL AND MURRAY HAVE IN COMMON: The Murray camp may look stone-faced and grim courtside, but according to Richard Evans, they’re witty off court, prone to “pranks and dry Sottish quips, and a lot of unrepeatable Czech jokes.”


OVA AND OUT: Domikina Cibulkova is the last “ova” left in the AO draw.

FIRST AT LAST: Tomas Berdych’s win over David Ferrer was his first win ever in Rod Laver Arena. He’s been playing there for 11 years.

A NORMAL COMPLAINT: Li Na told the Aussie crowd that during a practice session, her husband Dennis first hit shots which were too timid, then hit too hard. She complained he couldn’t hit normal shots, but then said, “I’m not normal people. Okay, forget it.”

A NOT SO NORMAL COMPLAINT: After officials quickly repaired a problem with the center court net, Chris Bowers said, “The tape is not straight. The lack of a right angle offends me.”

WHAT REALLY MATTERS: According to Darren Cahill, there are about 560 points in a match, and only 10 really count.

OF VOLLEYS AND VIOLINS: During the Federer match, ESPN cut to a shot of a man wearing headphones while quickly restringing a racket. “I wonder what he’s listening to there?” Patrick McEnroe asked innocently enough. “Probably string music,” replied Chris Fowler.

A TRULY SUBLIME PERFORMANCE: Agnieszka Radwanska was on fire. An athletic wonder with great anticipation, sweet hands, and knowing tactics, she completely dismantled the befuddled and relatively one-dimensional two-time defending champion, Victoria Azarenka. You could even say—if you were cruel—that the 6-0 score of the final set didn’t fully capture its one-sidedness.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here