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The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Federer’s Whispering Feet Keep Him Afloat

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In 2008, Roger Federer lifted the US Open trophy in New York and ended what could arguably be called his worst year. Federer’s worst year coincided with Rafael Nadal’s best season till date. In 2008 Roger made it to three finals and lost two, Nadal on the other hand made it to two finals and won both.

Nadal was at his imperious best on Paris clay, where he blasted Federer in three sets and handed the Swiss the worst defeat of his glorious career.

At Wimbledon, Nadal and Federer played what is regarded as the greatest match of tennis history. The Wimbledon final that ended almost in darkness seemed like the beginning of a new era; the era of power tennis, endless energy and the street fighter’s attitude. Along with Wimbledon, Nadal also took the World Number 1 rank, a few weeks later; ending the longest streak by any player at the top of the table.

It was on September 22, 1997 that 16-year-old Federer debuted on the ATP computer. As documented in the book On This Day In Tennis History, Federer was less than two months after turning 16 when he debuted on the ATP computer with a world ranking of No. 803. Six and a half years later Federer had climbed to the number 1 spot.

As the 2009 season progressed Federer found his feet and defeated Nadal in the clay court tournament played in Madrid as a run up to the French Open. He then lifted the French Open for the first time by beating Soderling, who had shocked the tennis world a few days earlier by eliminating Nadal.

Against Tommy Haas earlier in the tournament, Federer was down two sets and serving at 30-40, 3-4 in the third when he played a blazing forehand that turned his year around. Just five points away from being out of the tournament, Roger ran to his left and cracked an inside out forehand that sailed over the net and flew without any hint of fear to land just inches short of doom. He won nine straight games after that.

Unlike Nadal, whose physical style is unleashed in grunts, Federer operates in relative silence. Having finally won the tournament that had eluded him for so many years in Paris, Federer added one more Wimbledon title to his tally in another marathon five-setter against a rejuvenated Roddick.

In 2009, Roger Federer reached the finals of all the four Grand Slam tournaments and faced a different opponent at each venue. The two finals he lost were both five setters in which a poor final set by Federer sealed the match he otherwise looked more in control of. With 15 Grand Slam titles, he is already in unchartered territory and fit to play for a few more years.

“The argument for Federer as the greatest player in men’s tennis history starts from the ground up, with feet snug in lightweight custom Nike sneakers, with muscles sculpted from training sessions in Dubai, with movement that makes Hall of Famers marvel,” wrote Greg Bishop in The New York Times. When Federer struggled in 2008, he had missed three of his usual training sessions in Dubai because of mononucleosis, the Beijing Olympics and a bad back.

Even ballet dancers are impressed by Federer’s footwork. Kathryn Bennetts runs the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium. She grew up in Australia with tennis courts all around and when she became a professional dancer she saw a correlation of movement between both the passions.

“Elite dancers combine speed, dexterity, power and coordination. Grace stems from their awareness of their feet and the way movement flows from there. They move easily, in balance, made to appear that way through thousands of hours of repetition. In Federer, Bennetts found the Mikhail Baryshnikov of tennis.”
“He has this smoothness to him,” she said. “He’s an artist, so refined. Like how dance transports you to a different place, so does he,” Kathryn was quoted by Bishop in a story about Federer’s footwork.

Written by Deepan Joshi

September 23, 2009 at 12:37 pm

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