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Arthur Ashe Stadium Opportune Setting for Federer, Murray and Del Porto To Prevail

Roger Federer (Max Rossi / Reuters)

At it’s highest level, tennis is a lonely, psychologically merciless game. It has been analogized to a high voltage version of chess, except involving only two pieces in inpeccably sleek and agile human form,battling on opposite sides of a court comrpised of lines and a center net that make no allowances for imprecision. The pieces attempt to stifle each other’s manueverability and ability to attack by employing an incendiary blend of 60-100 mph groundstrokes, booming and often unreturnable first serves, and timely soft drop shots with wicked spins that patter to a low bounce off the ground.

Winning a Grand Slam requires dominance: you need to win seven matches in a  row to lay claim to the title. The trick to doing so is maintain a presence of invincibility under all circumstances. U.S. Open #1 seed Novak Djokovic has done just this in 2011, winning two Grand Slams and amassing an immaculate 57-2 record for the year. Meanwhile, #2 seed Rafael Nadal, winner of 10 career Grand Slams, has had a mediocre summer which included a lackluster four set loss to Djokovic in the U.S. Open. This matters little, however: Nadal can ignite a torrid momentum against opponents at a flick of a switch; his game is instinctually predatoral.

Djokovic and Nadal, as of now, are functional beasts. The more human, dramatic trajectories at the U.S. Open over the next two weeks will be those of Roger Federer (#3), Andy Murray (#4), and dark horse Juan Carlos Del Porto (#18).

Roger Federer:  Will He Prosper in the Face of Autumn’s Bellowing Winds?

In 2009, at the apex of his already legendary career, the then 28 year old Federer’s versatility on the tennis court was summarized by former legend Jimmy Connors:

“In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist…or you’re Roger Federer.”

World renowned author David Foster Wallace, in a New York Times article entitled “Federer as Religious Experience” referred to the forcefulness and speed of Federer’s forehand as “a great liquid whip.”  It’s questionable if these tremendous extolments fully capture Federer’s legacy on the court – by January 2010, Federer had won 16 Grand Slams, the most ever in men’s tennis. During his mid-20s, Federer held the ATP #1 ranking for more than four and a half years in a row, eclipsing Jimmy Connor’s former record by more than a year.

However, since January ’10, the now 30 year old Fededer is more than a year and a half removed from his last grand slam title; there is now legitimate question as to whether Federer will approach the twilight of his career in a final blaze rather than through a series of respectable Quarterfinal and semi-finals losses to the likes of the next generation, particularly Nadal, Djokovic, or the next young upstart looming in the shadows. Federer had been so dominant before 2010 that he’s never really had to wallow in a deeply entrenched slump. Thus far, the slump has left Federer’s psyche more downcast and hapless than plucky and resilient (like Nadal). Is Roger Federer’s kryptonite the realization that he’s human?

There is little question that the U.S. Open presents Federer with an ideal opportunity to break out of his funk. The Open has been kind to a lineage of preceding legends: Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Jimmy Connors all won their last Grand Slam titles in the autumn of their illustrious careers at the Open: Connors twice at 31 and 32 years old, Sampras once at 31, and Agassi at the ripe old age of 33. From a strategic perspective, the U.S. opens hard court surface caters best to all court players like Federer as opposed to clay which favors hyper athletic defense specialists such as Nadal, and grass which favors less athletic defensive specialists with strong serve and volley games, like Djokovic. Nine of Federer’s Grand Slams come on the U.S. and Australian Open’s hard court surfaces.

Can the legend with the “liquid whip” can feed off the favorable swan song winds of Arthur Ashe stadium?

Andy Murray: Can he Maintain His Composure with the Elephant on the Court.

There is an unbearably obnoxious elephant draped in a British flag every time Andy Murray steps on the court deep in a Grand Slam tournament. Great Britain, the country that founded tennis, has not had a Grand Slam champion in close to seventy five years. Twenty four year old Scottish tennis star Andrew Murray is the current candidate to send the elephant thumping away, and there’s something about Murray’s visage that indicates both that he’s game for the task and that he may lose his composure before it.

Often labeled earlier on in his career a “pusher,” a condescending term for a player who employs a one-dimensional defensive style off the baseline, leeching points off opponent’s unforced errors, Murray has developed over the last two years an ability to mix in with his predominantly defensive orientated game volleying, aggressive long shots to the baseline, and a cross-court game, all of which he employed optimally when he defeated Nadal in four sets in the 2008 U.S. Open semi-finals. Murray also has one of the most lethal first serves in the game.

Unfortunately for Murray, both Nadal and Djokovic both play essentially the same style as Murray, but at a decidedly superior level. Still, Murray’s game has proven to be a challenge to top ranked players on the hard court earlier in his career, and the energetic fans of Arthur Ashe stadium – who most likely won’t have an American to route for in the later rounds of the tournament – may provide Murray with what could be the decisive support to bring a Grand Slam back home to Great Britain.

Juan Martin Del Porto:  Beware of the Young and Healthy(?)

In 2009, the then 21 year old Del Porto had a breakthrough year that had many pundits touting him as the viable threat to break into what was at the time a Federer-Nadal exclusive jockeying the AP Men’s tour #1 and #2 spots at the time. That year, Del Porto – reputed for having an overpowering all-court game – endured a successive three Grand Slam jostle with Roger Federer, who was then in his prime. It was the stuff sports movies are made of, with Del Porto as the young upstart hero, and Federer as the seemingly emotionless anti-hero in the reins: First Federer thrashed Del Porto in the Australian Open Quarterfinals in three sets. Del Porto regrouped to engage Federer in a grueling five set semi-final at the French Open, in which Federer barely prevailed. The year ended for Del Porto when he took on his nemesis for the third time at the U.S. Open finals, this time defeating him in five sets for his first Grand Slam title.

His rise was short lived: Del-Porto suffered a wrist injury in early January 2010 that impaired his game at the Australian Open, and forced him to remove himself from the three remaining Slams that year. Now at still only 23 years old, Del-Porto has been on a slow grind to recovery, hilighting once again the cruel reality an athlete’s own body is at all times his greatest nemesis. At Wimbledon this year, Del Porto finally broke back into the top 20 after reaching the 4th Round, only to lose to Nadal in a heated four set match 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. This appearance augurs well even if Federer and Murray deal with their own personal issues, the young talent’s simple ability to heal may render either of these opponents vincible in the later rounds of the Open.

About Argun M. Ulgen

When I was young, my dad and I used to watch a lot of MSG midnight replays of Knicks basketball after he came home from work. One night at 1am we grilled steaks and watched the Knicks somehow hold onto a 4th quarter lead. Sometime later, I started to fall in love with reading all sorts of literature, including sports books.The dawning of this romance came soon after my deep relationships with HBO reruns of its fine series programming, not to mention the Encore channel's more than generous replays of Scarface, came to a close. I write, but only when I don't feel like being idle. Feel free to AIM me at YoProtein (that's "Yo, Protein!") with comments or suggestions about my work. I more than welcome feedback.

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2 comments for “Arthur Ashe Stadium Opportune Setting for Federer, Murray and Del Porto To Prevail”

  1. New Post: Arthur Ashe Stadium Opportune Setting for Federer, Murray and Del Porto To Prevail http://t.co/5kCFY6T

    Posted by Sports of New York | August 29, 2011, 3:39 am
  2. New Post: Arthur Ashe Stadium Opportune Setting for Federer, Murray and Del Porto To Prevail http://t.co/5kCFY6T

    Posted by Argun | August 29, 2011, 4:17 pm

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