Sunday, November 13, 2011
Welcome back to the land of the elite, Fed
By Ravi Ubha, ESPN.com
PARIS -- When Roger Federer saved two break points in the opening game of the Paris Masters final Sunday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, much to the dismay of the vocal French fans, you sensed this was the Swiss' day.
And so it proved.
Tsonga was broken in the next game. The first set went by faster than tourists clicking their cameras in front of the Eiffel Tower, and Tsonga never recovered.
The final score read 6-1, 7-6 (3), giving Federer his second title in as many weeks and the perfect preparation for the World Tour Finals, where he's the defending champion.
"I'm going into London with great confidence," he said in his postmatch press conference.
And though Federer flourished in Paris, there were other takeaways, too. Here are five from the season's final regular-season tournament.
All good for Roger, but ...
He's 30 years old and who knows how much longer he has left in his career, so it was genuinely nice to see Federer finally bag the only hard-court Masters crown that had eluded him. His immense contribution to the game is one of the reasons he deserved this one.
The tournament showed that, in spurts, Federer can revert to the form he showed when he was only losing five or six matches a year. Federer was particularly brilliant against Tomas Berdych in the semifinals, bullying the Czech with his cross-court forehand and versatile serve.
His final opponent, Tsonga, played three hours Saturday evening. In the semis, Berdych was coming off a three-hour marathon from a day earlier. And Juan Monaco, whom Federer beat in the quarterfinals, is not exactly a big-tournament stalwart. Federer's third-round victim, Richard Gasquet, needed a cortisone injection prior to the tourney for a chronic elbow injury. Mind you, Federer was a "little sick" Sunday.
Worrying times for Djokovic
Some out there might feel that Djokovic's shoulder injury is not a major source of concern. Even if he performs poorly in London, the theory goes, he'll have ample time to rest up, get his body ready for 2012 and start the domination again.
How much should we worry about Novak Djokovic's recent woes?
It doesn't always work out that way.
Djokovic has played five completed matches since the U.S. Open, and though post-New York tennis isn't exactly the most important stretch of the campaign, some semblance of rhythm needs to be maintained. He would have liked to cement that aura of his.
Recent seasons have shown us how quickly the tennis landscape shifts. Early into 2009, few predicted Federer would nab two Grand Slam titles; in 2010 Nadal's triple-crown was a surprise; and surely no one thought Djokovic would trample the field in 2011.
(Hmm, is it Murray's turn to break out in 2012?)
Djokovic was in a no-win situation in Paris. Pull out beforehand and detractors would say, "Here we go again." He only played, according to others, to pocket a hefty $1.6 million bonus.
Unlikely, that, since he doesn't need the cash.
Isner can play big-man tennis
John Isner didn't come into Paris expecting much. He lost 12 pounds after contracting an illness on the Asian swing. Looking rusty, he was ousted by a player ranked outside the top 100 (albeit a promising one in Canadian Vasek Pospisil) in the first round in Valencia.
Isner, though, kicked it up a gear after edging the back-to-drifting Stanislas Wawrinka in his opener, topping warrior David Ferrer in the quarterfinals and coming within a point of eliminating Tsonga on his home patch.
As his coach, Craig Boynton, said earlier this year, slower hard courts favor Isner. The serve remains potent; he has time to set up for his shots and he can even retrieve on the baseline.
So, after reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in New York in September, Isner made it to his first Masters Series quarter.
"I think I showed this tournament that I can play with the best players in the world," Isner, set to rise from his current ranking of 24th, said in his postmatch press conference Saturday. "I just have to be more consistent. I have to bring this level, try to bring it 18 to 20 times a year. This year I only played my best in probably seven or eight events."
It's not a stretch to think Isner can contend for a spot in London next year.
Paris won't ever be the same
We refer, of course, to the tournament itself.
Next year has train wreck written all over it. The not-so-perfect time for Guy Forget to take over as tournament director.
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There's no week off between Paris and London, which means you'll see more of the big guns not playing or the big guns playing but not going full tilt.
Take Federer, for instance: Is he really going to compete in his hometown of Basel, Paris and London in consecutive weeks, assuming he qualifies for the year-end championships? Probably not, and Paris could be the loser, even if Forget suspects Federer would drop Basel first.
As pointed out by veteran tennis writer Tom Tebbutt, it's not silly to suggest this might be Federer's swansong in southeast Paris.
"It's my guess [Federer] will be able to play those three weeks," Forget said in a press conference Saturday. "We will have a discussion with him to see how we can work it out."
"Until next year," Federer said on court Sunday.
The passionate, knowledgeable fans here deserve better, given how well they support the tournament.
"I think the most licensed tennis players live in France in the world, and I think for that reason they're very knowledgeable," Federer said.
Les Bleus have seen better days
A caption on French TV Thursday morning summed it up: "Journee catastrophique pour Les Bleus."
On Wednesday, Gael Monfils, who is almost a lock to reach quarterfinals at tournaments in France, was upset by Feliciano Lopez in his opener on the slow hard court, and Gilles Simon not only lost, but was pummeled by Monaco 6-4, 6-0. Gasquet wasn't 100 percent, thanks to the elbow.
Only Tsonga provided lived up the expectations, and now it appears only Tsonga holds promise at the Slams.