- Peter Bodo, Tennis
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You have to wonder, don’t all those nice people in Halle ever get sick of seeing Roger Federer grinning like a schoolboy as he studies the reflection of his own beautiful self in the hardware presented to the Halle singles champion?
Federer has won the Halle title seven times now, and by the time all those “seventh heaven” and “lucky number” headlines are yanked from the web, this piece of interesting information remains: Roger Federer still must be considered a prime contender when Wimbledon begins in less than a week’s time.
“In the past, when I have played well at Halle, I have usually played well at Wimbledon," Federer declared after his win Sunday. In fact, Federer has won the title at Wimbledon seven times as well, although not in the same years. "They have been two of my most successful tournaments, so I hope that this title will bring me luck again. Last year it didn’t work out, but it did many times before. So I hope it will be back to the good old days.”
You’ve got to love this guy’s enthusiasm. He’s won just three tournaments since the start of 2013, two of them this ATP 250 in Halle, where guys good enough to feature in the final weekend at Roland Garros (which ends the day before Halle begins) have zero chance to survive -- if they play at all.
Who wants to get on a plane in Paris on Sunday night after you’ve played a Grand Slam final and go right to Germany or England to compete on grass? This year, French Open finalist Novak Djokovic wisely chose to take a pass on Halle (or Queens) once again. Good scout Rafael Nadal did play Halle, partly out of guilt for having stiffed the tournament last year (he pulled out on doctor’s orders after he won the French Open; it would have been too much for the top seed in Halle to go AWOL two years running). But Nadal also deeply felt the need for grass-court practice, and the amount he was promised as an appearance fee for just showing up probably figured in his calculations as well.
Net result: Top-seeded Nadal packed them in, then lost in the second round (but his first match; he had a bye) to Germany’s Dustin Brown, 6-4, 6-1. Being that Brown is German, it seemed to work out OK for everyone. The Germans, who have little to crow about tennis-wise, got to see one of their own beat Nadal. The French Open champ honored his agreement to play Halle, and from midweek on he was able to sleep in and practice to his heart’s content on grass. And Federer got to bask in the glory of winning again -- and to take his place, with pride, among the men who will be said to have a good shot at becoming the singles champion at Wimbledon.
“I really enjoy winning titles,” Federer declared after he won. “It is what I play for, to play and to receive a standing ovation at the end. I am very pleased with my performance. I work hard and travel the tour to win these titles and not lose in the quarters or semifinals. With all the success I have had in the past, I need to aim for titles. I think I deserved the title this week.”
It’s strange, how those words sounded almost like Federer was trying to rationalize the joy he takes from winning a 250, as if he were really answering the question: “Sheeesh, Roger, why do you even bother with that Halle stuff anymore?”
Or perhaps he was just justifying his apparently undiminished appetite for going back to Halle and beating up on a bunch o’ palookas. In the final, Federer topped No. 54 Alejandro Falla -- a guy who hails from Colombia -- and showed everyone that he’s still very much around and armed with intentions.
Seven is an awful lot of titles to take away from one tournament, but then remember that this is a guy who’s also taken seven from Wimbledon. Don’t put anything past him at this time of year, but if you’re a headline writer with a few moments to spare you could try coming up with some puns using the number “eight.”
Just in case.