If the slams are the climax of the tennis season, the Masters Cup is its resolution. Roger’s own narrative arc mainly corresponds with these highlights on the tennis calendar. I’d argue that Fed’s ’07 season, with it “slump” periods and dramatic victories, was both the most stressful and the most rewarding yet for us Fed fans. Here are some of the highlights:
1. Roger wins the Aussie without losing a set. In the process, he makes Djokovic look like a fool and gives one of his all-time beatdown performances against a resurgent Roddick. Roger fans, including Roger, start chattering about the Roger Slam.
2. Enter the American hard court season, Part One. (No, not the Roadtrip, but the Indian Wells – Miami Masters leg of the tour – hey, why doesn’t the USTA market this as the Greatest Spring Break in sports? The ads could feature Sveta, Roddick et. al. doing cannonballs and drinking Bud Light at the pool.) I am on the grounds during Roger’s mystifying second-round loss to Canas in Palm Springs and watching the television, horrified, as Guillermo 2.0 gets him again in Miami. Unthinkable! Looking back, I’d argue that we should thank Roger for these losses. His absence allowed the wildly entertaining Nadal – Djokovic rivalry to come to a full boil.
3. Ah, the dreaded clay court season: Nadal beats Rog in the Monte Carlo final. Roger suffers a shocking loss to Filippo Volandri in Rome, making it the fourth tournament that Roger’s entered and left without a trophy. Fans start cadging Zoloft from their friends.
4. Roger fires Roche, leaving him coachless two weeks before Roland Garros. Fans wash the pills down with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
5. Roger snaps us out of our stupor by achieving the impossible – he beats Rafa on clay. I remember watching the Hamburg Masters final online, at dawn (but not drunk, I swear!), and thinking that Rog was done for. He played an awful first set against Nadal and I think he was even down a break in the second. But then he steeled his nerves, pulled out the three-set win and gave one of his most emotional non-Slam victory whoops ever. He ran to the sidelines to get a kiss from Mirka. Across Roger’s kingdom, his subjects proclaim the French Open his for the taking.
4. But then he loses it in plebeian fashion. The final went four sets but Rafa still embarrassed him.
5. The Dark Ages: Roger goes into self-exile, refusing to play Halle, the Wimby warm up that got him over his Roland Garros defeat the previous year. Fans consider flying to Dubai and staging an intervention, but are too depressed to go through with it.
6. Roger wins the most dramatic match of his career – barely beating Rafa in the Wimbledon final. I still get nervous thinking of those two 0-40 service games in the fifth. For the first time since Roger’s ’03 ascent, his place on the tennis throne was severely challenged – Rafa had scaled the fortifications and bludgeoned the palace doors wide open with his battering ram. It came down to the sword’s edge, and Roger landed the death blow. The victory was marred only slightly when Roger put his pants on backwards during the trophy ceremony.
7. Fed fans return to their self-destructive ways. Rafa’s getting the better post-Wimby press – even Roger claims that he felt he was the lesser man from the baseline. Roger served better than Rafa, which was just enough to win on the grass, but Nadal’s own serve and his net game are rapidly gaining ground. Once again, Roger disappears to the Middle East.
8. The Road Trip begins and Roger’s No. 1 ranking is tenuous. Thank goodness the surging Djokovic beats Nadal in the Rogers Masters semis. Unfortunately, he also beats Roger in the final. Roger stays on top by winning Cincy – but he doesn’t have to go through Rafa or Djoky to do so.
9. It’s U.S. Open time. Roger plays great and looks fabulous in his all black ensemble. Fans love the Darth Federer mystique and relish his “vintage” Roddick beatdown. But then the final once again tests our faith in Rog’s future domination – Djokovic chokes 7 set points, handing Roger the trophy.
10. Nalbandian kicks Roger’s ass during the indoor season. He kicks everyone else’s asses, too. Roger clinches the year end No. 1 status with his home tourny victory in Basel, but fans are still on edge. Gasquet says Nalbandian’s tougher to play against than Roger.
11. We all heave a collective sigh of relief when the top-8 guys all show up in Shanghai and Nalbandian, who is in the No. 9 position, decides to stay home. But then Roger loses to Gonzo and wins ugly over Kolya. The blogosphere continues to obsess over Fed’s pending “twilight years” and wonders if ’08 will officially be the year that someone else finishes on top. Fans are tempted to bury their heads under their sofa cushions and weep.
12. Good thing we decide to keep watching: Roger kills Roddick. He kills Nadal – making it a positive win/loss differential over Rafa for the year. Ferrer, the best performer in Shanghai, is TOAST. Roger accomplishes all of this with near perfect serving, awesome defense, a rock-solid backhand and lots of trips to the net. Although Roger shows a disturbing trend of referring to himself in the third person, he also reveals a new, supersized game that combines all of his strengths to form a kind of unbeatable meta-tennis. And he hasn’t even hired a coach yet! Any thoughts of decline are squashed like old gum on a Times Square sidewalk.
13. Roger, pretending to be joking around, declares that winning the Golden Slam is his goal for ’08.
14. Deliriously happy, we resolve to never doubt Roger Federer again.