US Open 2011: Roger Federer plays and talks a fast game
The Swiss maestro voices his opinion about a host of topics after his defeat of Dudi Sela in New York
With Roger Federer, you always know you’re going to get your money’s worth in the conversation stakes.
His on-court interviews are the most elaborate””witness Jim Courier’s quizzes in Melbourne””and his press conferences attract the biggest numbers and the most diverse questions.
His campaign in New York is just two matches old and he has already been asked about his memories of 9-11, the impact of being 30, the form of Juan Martin Del Potro, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, his tennis records, the speed of the courts, Rafael Nadal’s autobiography, Venus’ Williams health and the working conditions of for tennis umpires.
The list goes on, but it’s all in a day’s work for one of the sport’s chief ambassadors.
Yet whether he’s treading a fine line in English or turning erudite in French or German, it is rare that he jumps in with both feet on anything too controversial, especially where there could be an inferred criticism of fellow players.
However, at his most recent press gathering, that is just what he did.
It came on the back of a general query about how much umpires allow players to get away with on court, and it was a timely question in more ways than one.
Just a fortnight back, Andy Roddick was at the centre of a brouhaha in Cincinnati after being docked a point for a pair of on-court misdemeanors. A more recent and bizarre example was the time violation warning given to a collapsed Jamie Hamilton at Flushing this week.
And there has been a scattering of similar time violations throughout the summer””Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro at Wimbledon, Djokovic in Paris””amid debates about shot clocks to enforce the time rules.
But this question was timely, too, for coming immediately after a match of just an hour and 17 minutes””the time it took Federer to beat Dudi Sela in the second round of the US Open.
For this one, in a sizzling post-lunch Arthur Ashe stadium, Federer looked every inch the champion he has been five times, and a whole lot more confident than in his opening-night match. He likes is hot, and he played hot. He even looked hot, dressed like an erupting volcano, in flame red over charcoal grey.
He likes it fast, as well, and his 93-ranked opponent is the perfect foil. Sela is small man who moves like lightening and uses every shot in the book to compensate for his lack of outright firepower.
It’s a style that brings out the best in Federer, too, and the combination was exhibition-style tennis of spin, and tactics, drop-shots and lobs, searing down-the-line winners from Federer, cunning sliced defence from Sela.
What also suited Federer was the rhythm of the match itself. Sela is a quick player who wastes not a moment between points, and that plays into one of Federer’s over-riding strengths: rhythm in his serve, rhythm in the rallies and thus control of the match.
The Federer serve found its groove early: a 70 per cent average in the first set, rising to 78 in the second before dropping slightly in the third. Everything else also slipped into a deadly consistency across the three sets.
His fastest serve ranged evenly from 128 mph in the first to 127 in the third. He dropped just eight points on serve in the match: three in the first, two in the second, three in the third.
The same statistical rhythm was beaten out through the points won per set””29, 27 and 27″”and even in the minutes per set””26, 26 and 25.
For Federer’s groove, when he goes to that place where his tennis flows almost subconsciously, is at its most consistent when he controls the rhythm. Little wonder, then, that he finds his nemesis in the slow, minutely-controlled playing pattern of Rafael Nadal, whose groove has an altogether different rhythm.
So it was after this swift and rhythmic 6-3 6-2 6-2 performance from Federer, played out even faster than Djokovic’s hour-and-a-half trouncing of Carlos Berlocq for the loss of only two games, that the question about the strictness of officiating was posed.
The answer went straight to the issue of time.
“If you look at how much time we can take walking onto the match, onto the court until the first ball is hit, there are many times where it takes way too long between points.”
He went on: “I still think officials should and could be more strict. Sometimes I wonder if they’re more strict on the outside courts than on the big courts, even though on the big courts you give some leeway to players, because you know they’re not doing it out of not being fair, but just that’s how they do it.
“I’ve felt like this last six months they’ve been trying to speed up the warm-ups. I think that’s good, because I think it’s a bit of a waste of time, to be quite honest, this whole pre-warm-up and stuff.”
It’s a wonder, perhaps, that if he feels so strongly about the stretching of time regulations, he has not used his influence on the Players’ Council to enforce their application more strictly.
But perhaps he, like many others, recognises that the slowing of the game between points has become so much a part of the modern tennis that there is no way back.
Federer went on to talk about the code of conduct of players, including the abuse of equipment.
“Other than [the time regulations], crack a racquet””right away, warning, right away money you have to pay.
“I think [the umpires] try to understand the players, too. Some don’t; some do. It’s a tough call”¦I think it’s important also that we are good role models and so forth. Otherwise it gets out of control again and people use too many things trying to win, which is unfair, as well.”
Then, as though keen not to be too dogmatic, he added:
“I guess it’s okay to some degree, even though a bit more leeway could be not bad, you know.”
Yes, even when drawn to say what he really thinks””as he frequently is””he will be careful not to antagonise.
He may be irritated by numerous issues in the game: Another of them this week has been what he believes to be a change in the playing surface at the Open this year.
But his personal equanimity is such that the irritation will soon dissipate, and especially so now that he is the father of daughters:
“I don’t need my twins to put life in perspective or my tennis life. I’ve always been at peace, with the game or without the game.”
However, the issue has been put out there. How long will it be before the officials listen, or is it simply too late to put the genie back in the lamp?