The 2008 Championships were a solid affair made transcendent by Sunday's men's final. A few thoughts:
* I keep waiting for Richard Gasquet to become the great player he's meant to be, but his quarterfinal meltdown against Andy Murray suggests it may never happen. Gasquet has as much natural talent as anyone in the game other than Federer. He's as pretty to watch as Federer; everything about him is smooth as glass. But as soon as Murray broke him to stay in the third set (remember, Gasquet was up two sets to none, and a break, and was serving for the match), he looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but on court. All of a sudden he looked like Eli Manning. Galley Friend S.H. calls that "loser face."
* Andy Murray is an animal. But he may not have the tools to win a major.
* It's frightening how fast things fall apart. Last September, Federer had just finished his third consecutive year with three major wins. With 12 slams in the bank we were wondering how much he'd pass Sampras by.
Ten months later, Federer hasn't won another slam. If he doesn't win the U.S. Open, I suspect he can't finish the year #1 in the rankings. Since January, Santino has been telling me that he thought Federer was done, that 26 is the wall in tennis, and that Federer would be lucky to tie Sampras's 14 slam wins. I scoffed, but now that seems about right.
The age of Federer is over. He'll hang around near the top for the next 18 months. He'll be a regular in the semis and finals of the slams, but absent him getting some help (injuries to other players, a draw with lots of upsets) I don't think it's certain he will win another big one. It's hard to imagine how he could win three more. Nadal and others are still on the upswing and Federer has nowhere to grow but old.
This is not a shot at Nadal--I like him a lot. He's a special player, a sweet guy, and a deserving champion. Yesterday's epic final was super-high-level tennis. Some of the best I've ever seen. But Federer lost the match by clutching up on most of his break chances. I forget how he finished the match--was he 1 for 15 on break points?--but it wasn't like Rafa was fighting them off brilliantly. Federer dumped backhand after backhand (some of them off of second serves, even) into the net on break points. The old Federer doesn't miss those.
I suppose I should just be glad to have had the chance to see him play at his peak. But I can't help being a little sad at the prospect of his diminishing.
* One of the aggravating aspects of tennis coverage is that the tennis community has all of the cliquishness of the ballroom dance world. Commentators and former players will go to any pains to excuse boorish behavior or even just foolish decision-making on the parts of players and their entourages. It's a criticism-free zone. (Unless, of course, you're some poor schlub ranked 235th in the world, in which case Pam Shriver will feel free to criticize your outfit, your body, your fitness level, and your lack of a second serve. Qualifiers don't get the same courtesies.)
But for the first time last night, I was grateful for the closed-shop tennis mentality. McEnroe was interviewing Federer just outside the locker room a few moments after the presentation ceremony. Federer, having held it together on court, was a mess. He looked like a man who understood that all of a sudden, his powers had been stripped from him, that his career was now a dead-end. After a minute or so of interview, it looked as though Federer might break down. And McEnroe, bless his heart, simply cut the interview short and gave Federer an awkward hug--the purpose of which seemed less to comfort him, than to get between Federer and the camera.
If a regular NBC reporter had been conducting that interview, they would have strung Federer along as far as possible, eager to get emotion out of him. For the first time, I was happy to see tennis protecting its own.
40 minutes ago