Fall Arts Preview
The previous installment of coverage trumpeted a review of the old with reserved praise for something new. Well, let’s just say that the old continues to make news and keep the new, soundly at bay.
(2) Roger Federer dispatched Vasek Pospisil and Saturday night made relatively quick work of the other Canadian leader of the new brigade, (5) Milos Raonic. I was riding high on my hopes of Raonic steamrolling through Cincinnati, much like he did in DC. Friday afternoon, he flatted poor Fabio Fognini like a newly set speed bump on the road. As with his previous match, Raonic teased the crowd with serves that near-missed in the lower 140s and ease at the net that mixed deft touch and more of his brand of brutal efficiency. I heard comments about his bland demeanor, probably reminiscent of Pete Sampras, but he has none of that Sampras display of the effort behind the points. Raonic is completely unfazed by the moment, his opponents, or any possible physical toll (and why would this be an issue when he spends so little time on court – win or lose).
In the end though, it all goes back to Roger Federer, still worth penciling into the semifinals of any event he enters. Cincinnati must feel like home for the five-time champion and he’s playing with renewed nonchalance and abandon, with a hint of emotion that he kept from us for so long, but that sneaks in much more now. Maybe fatherhood has brought this out of him, or the idea that he’s nearing the end of his astonishing career. Or, maybe its that he’s tired of people assuming that the end is nigh. With such steady results, he’s a threat to win an 18th Slam this year, and set the stage for a few more before he’s done.
Just as Pospisil and Raonic, two of the guys I will continue to back as the next generation of the game. Of course, they’ve got to wait awhile longer.
For the final, Federer faces a familiar foe in (6) David Ferrer from Spain. The resurgence in Federer would seem to have come from his coaching association with Stefan Edberg who has expressed the belief that, rather than “coaching” the all-time Slams leader, he serves instead as a sounding board for Federer. Whatever the case, the conversations have piqued a desire in Federer to tweak his game and approach enough to keep him in the broader discussion anytime he shows up in a tournament draw. There is also the sense that Federer has an overall game plan of making quick work of any and all opponents.
What we are seeing in Federer is a player with a plethora of old skills who is remixing them in new ways.
And against Ferrer, Federer showcases his cool command of the necessary points to seize the first set, but wanders through a completely lackluster second set – which finds Ferrer refusing to succumb to a lull – and gets bombed out (6-1). Federer starts the third set with a couple of strong holds and looks to be back on track, but Ferrer continues to keep pushing the boulder up the hill. The guy just doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t check out on individual points. He won’t beat himself. You’ve got to do the work. Which Federer does in the fourth game of the third set, breaking Ferrer and then turning the heat up on his serve to back up the break. At four games to one, the countdown to Federer’s sixth title is on (and 16-0 versus Ferrer), but what does this mean for the US Open?
A less than healthy Nadal. Djokovic in a bit of a fog. Murray back to his pre-Slam winning ways. Questions about Tsonga and Raonic being ready to step into the void. Somehow that leaves Roger Federer as the man with his fate in his hands. If he decides he wants the US Open, it is his for the taking.
Vasek Pospisil is for real. The Canadian’s aggressive return game and disciplined construction of points placed him squarely in five-time W&S Open champion Roger Federer’s path. And for the first two sets of their match on Wednesday afternoon, Pospisil appeared ready to seize the day away from the veteran. The rising star – along with countryman Milos Raonic who has garnered even more attention, title, and top ten ranking to boot – brought his spirited revolutionary fervor to Federer and stood toe-to-toe, trading loaded shots from the baseline and precision strikes at the net.
Federer claimed the first set in a tiebreak that came down to the slimmest of missed opportunities for Pospisil and Federer’s instinctive ability to capitalize on such moments. The second set seemed on course for yet another tiebreak, but it was Pospisil, late in the set, who gained the upper hand, breaking Federer to stave off the forced head-to-head.
Something happened in the third set though, that clearly defines these two players, at this point in their careers. Federer, the champion’s champion, flipped the proverbial switch, exerting a measure of his considerable will and took over. He broke Pospisil to take an early 2-1 lead and it was plain to all in attendance, especially Pospisil that Federer was in control. This was a pure alpha dog play and Pospisil mentally surrendered. His game, so thoughtful and compose, slipped into obvious over-thinking in key moments, while a bit of stubbornness reared its head. Pospisil resorted to pounding serves, pushing for power and missing, but probably thinking (and hoping) that things would turn and the next one would go in. Unfortunately, they didn’t and the match was out of reach.
The lesson for Pospisil, and maybe Federer too, is that the same old, same old days won’t last forever.
A change is coming.
And Milos Raonic isn’t merely waiting for the wind, so that he can rise up on it. This guy is generating the mighty wind on his own.
His match against veteran American journeyman Robby Ginepri was over before it even started. Raonic opened the floodgates early, blasting serves in the 130s to hold effortlessly, while starting off his return games on top of the baseline, prowling and leaping forward with a hunger and ferocity that could not be contained, even if Ginepri was playing at the top of his game, which he certainly was not on this night. His own serves barely cracked 110, so Raonic feasted. He has the raw power of a conquerer, but a head full of strategy and a willingness to shift from force to what amounts to brutal efficiency. There is little else to say about his opening match, but let the record show that more, much more is to come. (tt stern-enzi)