Friday, February 10, 2017

Federer May Very Well Justly Feel That Slam # 18 is Best One

I know that after a while for many people, multiple championships by a team or a star athlete start to feel repetitive. In fact, if you are not a fan of that team or that athlete, it starts to get old really fast. Look at some of the adverse reactions to the Patriots coming back and winning the Super Bowl last Sunday. People hate them, and the repeated claims that they are cheaters, and that Brady and/or Belichick are evil or smug or whatever, are once again out of control.

Of course, I am familiar with that feeling of intensely disliking certain athletes and/or teams. I could not stand the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980's and 1990's, and obviously, that was the wrong team not to like at that point. Funny thing is, though, that I liked certain individuals on that team, particularly Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Bill Walsh. Certainly, Joe Montana seems much more likable than Tom Brady, admittedly, although I disliked his 49ers intensely, while Brady's Patriots still do not bother me (perhaps surprisingly). 

It was the same way for the Los Angeles Lakers, and that was even worse. Much like with the 49ers (and other franchises, like the Dallas Cowboys), people wear Lakers gear suddenly when the team gets good. Everyone suddenly comes out of the wood works and shows their fair weather fan status on their sleeves (literally), although if you ask them, they will swear that they have "always" liked this team from the days when they were really bad (which is hard to believed with the Lakers in particular, because I cannot even remember them ever being really bad until maybe just a couple of seasons ago. 

I also have a dislike for the Yankees, although like with most of those big, popular franchises, it is the fans that really get to me. Their arrogance and sense of entitlement - and as much as I dislike the 49ers and the Lakers, and as little as I really have gotten into baseball - this sense of entitlement is more glaringly obvious among Yankees fans than with any other team in sports that I know of. I remember, back in the 2004 season, how angry some Yankees fans got when the Red Sox were mentioned, and how they would go out of their way to ridicule and dismiss them, belittle them and their fans. Frankly, by that point, I had grown so sick of the New York Yankees, that I already counted myself among the "Anyone but the Yankees" crowd, but it was especially delightful to see the Boston Red Sox, of all teams, do it to them. And that was after the Yankees had taken a seemingly insurmountable 3 games to none lead in the series! That made it particularly sweet!

In tennis, I have to admit to never liking Pete Sampras. Why? Because he seemed over the top arrogant, and there were subtle signs that this was the case. He just seemed so full of himself and, frankly, shallow. I remember him being asked on a television show once why so many people seemed to think that he was boring, and he answered, laughing, that he was not boring, that he owned a jet. That seemed to me the most pretentious of possible responses, and owning a jet did not automatically qualify him as interesting. He showed some class and incredible resilience while on the tennis court, and you could not help but admire his consistency.

However, it was my dislike of him that probably allowed me to really like the talents that have come since, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. All of those guys seemed to me really classy, and genuinely decent, likable guys, both on the court and off of it. What surprised me was how quickly they came to dominate and win multiple Grand Slams, to the point that Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles, which had seemed virtually an unbreakable record when he reached it, was passed by Federer in particular. Surprisingly quickly, Nadal also matched it, and he can arguably have been said to have enjoyed a more impressive career, having won 14 Grand Slams while playing against the likes of those other greats during his time. Now, Djokovic may very well be the next guy to equal Sampras, and perhaps Nadal will be the next guy to pass him, in terms of career Grand Slam titles.

However, one already did. That was Roger Federer, and right now, it probably must be difficult for him to pinpoint which of his championship victories meant the most to him.

Was it perhaps his victory over Sampras himself, the master of the grass courts, at the Wimbledon quarterfinal in 2001? Was it two years later, when Federer finally stood at Centre Court himself after winning his first Grand Slam Final, and hoisted the trophy? Was it perhaps the next year, after he had won the Australian, defended his Wimbledon title, and then won the U.S. Open title en route to a dominating year and the world's number one ranking? Maybe it was the French Open title in 2009, with which he not only matched the record number of Grand Slam titles that Sampras had won, but did so by clinching the career Grand Slam (something that Sampras never did)? Or maybe it was one month later, when he won Wimbledon again, and raised the bar for all time Grand Slam titles by a man, as he won his 15th overall? Was it perhaps the Wimbledon title in 2012, when he matched the seven won by Sampras, and did it in his thirties?

Well, all of those had to be sweet, sure. But number 18 had to be particularly special. After all, it had been almost five years since his last Grand Slam championship, and some people thought that the window had not only closed for him, but had slammed shut.

Now, we know he is still capable (although admittedly, a lot of things had to fall into place for him this time around, most notably the shockingly early exists of Murray and Djokovic).

Indeed, Roger Federer is now in his mid-thirties, and he is a father. He is also approaching an age where most of his peers have retired. Sampras certainly was long gone by the time that he reached the age that Federer is at right now. Most tennis players have. The only men who I can clearly think of who had or have not are Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, and Tommy Haas.

Anyway, yes, this one had to be particularly sweet, because not only had he not won a Grand Slam title in a long, long time, and not only did he do it at a relatively advanced age for a professional athlete, but he also did it against the one man who most haunted Federer throughout his career - Rafael Nadal.

So surely, that made this one really stand out for all of the right reasons. Had he lost, he would have been forced to live with the popular notion that while most people still could consider him the greatest of all time, many would feel that his inability to master Nadal diminishes that status. By beating Nadal on such a grand stage, and after ten years where he had failed to beat his biggest rival in a Grand Slam event, that had to make this victory particularly meaningful and special to him!

Here is the link to the article that got me on this topic of Roger Federer and how meaningful this past Grand Slam title - his 18th overall - really was for him:

Why Federer's 18th Slam "stands alone" By Steve Tignor 1, February, 2017:

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