Friday, January 21, 2011

The Swiss are known for their efficiency and having the most reliable clocks in the world.

And when it comes to that efficiency, there is generally no more reliable in the tennis playing world than Roger Federer. He just keeps on producing the same flawless tennis day after day, week in week out. That’s how it was for the first two sets of his second round match against Frenchman, Gilles Simon, on day three of the Australian Open.

For two sets he dominated with a stupendous display of shotmaking supremacy. Occasionally, the upstart Frenchman would get a little uppity and decide to muscle his way into a rally and attempt to control it, but, bang on time, Federer would simply launch a missile in the form of a forehand winner to detonate time on any designs of dominating proceedings that Simon may have had.

Tennis can be heavenly to watch, and, at his best, Federer is without peer. The sheer mastery of the courtmanship that he displayed during the first two sets was a joy to behold. He pulled out every shot that he possesses in his extravagant repertoire. Everything from off-forehands, passing shots from both sides and an outrageous backhand smash that was all interspersed with delicate drop shots that had his challenger mesmerised. Power hitting, it all wasn’t, for he would wisely vary the pace of the game with a dose of sliced backhands every so often. Not only that, but, Federer would intelligently make splendid use of the full array of angles available to him to manoeuvre Simon out wide, thus opening up the remainder of the court to procure himself a winning volley.

Having won the first set 6-2 in a zippy thirty-five minutes, the maestro continued on his merry way with another virtuoso display. It wasn’t long before he had apprehended the second set and locked it away 6-3.

Of those that had sat through the opening exchanges, few would have predicted what was to come. Nothing that had occurred thus far had suggested that Simon could fight his way back into the match. Or so it had seemed. The keen observer, however, would have been alert to a potential weakness in the Swiss machine during the second game of the second set. With Federer charging along at a great rate of knots towards a seemingly easy victory, he, on three consecutive points, used drop shots to win each point. It worked, too.

Despite this, what it displayed in the Federer psyche was a penchant for a touch of arrogance when he is in total control of a match. Not the first time that he has indulged in showing a lack of respect to his opponents, over the years.

Royalty Federer may be, and at two sets to nil up he was certainly flush with opportunities to erase Simon from the tournament quick smart. But, that arrogance of an earlier date was about to come back to haunt him. There was a full house in at Rod Laver arena to watch Federer’s cards hit the deck and Simon to cash in on a mentally flat Federer over the next two and a half sets.

No longer was it Federer who was firing off winners, it was a revitalised Simon who grew a arm and a leg as he preceded to give the world number two a dose of his own medicine. Earlier it had been Federer in total command. But, life can be an unpredictable beast at times. It was now Simon who was about to put in a performance that was anything but simple.

Whereas before it had been Federer who could do no wrong, now Simon was keen on some role reversal and a chance to dazzle an adoring audience. And a mighty job he did of it, too. He was now doing a Federer on Federer. Crushing backhand winners were a specialty. Simon was hyped. There was to be no holding him back as scythed his way through the third and fourth sets, winning both 6-4.

Upsets have always occurred over time, but this was shaping as one of the biggest. A player barely ranked in the top fifty was making a man that many claim to be the greatest ever, seem decidedly average. No matter what Federer tried, he just couldn’t make a go of it. For two sets despair had spread through his being until he looked anything but a champion. Would he have an ace or two up his sleeve to pull out at the appropriate time?

One couldn’t be entirely sure early in the fifth set. Simon was still firing on all cylinders, and, even though Federer was starting to reacquaint himself with sweetened timing of shot, Simon was hanging around with the air of a parasite with nothing but the most sinister of intentions. He wasn’t about to give up the chance of a third career win over Federer after he had endured the mental torment of being on the receiving end of Federer’s genius over the first two sets and knowing that there was nothing he could do but to accept being made to look like an amateur in front of fifteen thousand people.

He’d fought back, regained his dignity, and now was a chance to show what he was really made of. Unfortunately for him, though, Federer had no intention of suffering the ignominy of an early round defeat. So, they went at it, game for game, until the sixth game when Federer broke Simon’s serve to go up 4-2. The Federer of the first two sets was starting to reappear. Rare shows of emotion were starting to come to the surface. Fists were pumping; there was even the occasional roar of approval from the great man after winning vital points. To the brink he had been, defeat staring him defiantly in the eye.

Federer, though, was no longer in any mood to tolerate the presence of an unwanted companion and saw the spectre of defeat wander off into obscurity as he reasserted his authority on the match to take a three game advantage, 5-2.

It was all over, then. Well, not quite, as Simon had other notions. He hadn’t spent so much time and effort putting himself into a position to spend more time in Melbourne, to give in now. So, at 0-40 down in the eighth game, with three match points against him, he called on all of his fighting spirit to conjure up another comeback of epic proportions. Amazingly, after nearly one hundred and ninety minutes of energy sapping battle, he found a way out of a dire predicament to secure the game and leave himself with a chance-however slim- of victory.

Famous victory it was not to be for Simon, as Federer served out the ninth game and took the 5th set and match, 6-3.

In the end, this would have been far too close for comfort for Federer’s liking, but, he got out of jail due to the sheer weight of his undeniable talent. Not necessarily because he deserved to after his attitude early in the third set.

Which goes to show, for the likes of Gilles Simon, that sometimes life just ain't fair.

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