Sports

Changing of the Guard?

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With the Mets and Yankees garnering most of New York sports fans attention during the summer season and with all the fuss about where LeBron James will end up, there is one story that did not get much play over the Fourth of July Holiday (Nadal winning Wimbledon) which involves the top tennis player of all time (Roger Federer) and the changing of the guard, if you will. You’ve heard me talk about Roger Federer for years and you’ve read several columns that I’ve written about him – how talented and classy he is, on and off the court. So what if he was not happy after losing to Berdych in the quarters at Wimbledon and he said he was dogged by back and leg injuries which many considered lame excuses and unsportsmanlike? I don’t doubt the fact that he was suffering physically and I certainly would not criticize him for making some unFederer-like comments after such a disappointing match!

What’s more important is the fact that the changing of the guard officially took place during the Wimbledon fortnight with Rafael Nadal winning his second Wimbledon, a painless victory in straight sets against Tomas Berdych, the Czech who knocked Federer out in the quarterfinals. It was Federer’s earliest exit from the tournament he has made his own since 2002! This was only a month after Nadal captured his fifth French Open championship while Federer lost in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

It was the first time in eight years that Federer was not on centre court for a Wimbledon final. Last year, Federer won his 6th Wimbledon title, beating Andy Roddick in a five set marathon, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 16-14. I like to write the scores because the match was so long and phenomenal but nowhere near as long as John Isner’s ‘three day’ extravaganza against Nicolas Mahut, which became the longest match in history — a three-day, 11-hour, five-minute epic that ended with a 70-68 final set. That’s sheer madness!

In 2008, the first time Nadal won at the All-England Club, Nadal beat Federer in a five-set, four-hour, 48-minute rain-interrupted marathon, the longest Wimbledon final in history. That win for Nadal certainly cracked some of Federer’s armor and initiated the changing of the guard talk. But since losing to Nadal in that 2008 Wimbledon final, Federer was not ready or willing to give up the crown and went on to win four more Grand Slam titles (2008 US Open, 2009 French Open & Wimbledon and 2010 Australian Open titles). What made that year worse for Nadal was that he was forced to watch the Wimbledon final on television, recovering from tendonitis in his knees.

This past Monday, Federer dropped to number three in the ATP rankings which is the first time in seven years that he’s been that low. Rafael Nadal took over the top spot on June 7 after the French Open but Novak Djokovic, the dynamic Serb, recently knocked Federer out of second place.

The timing for Federer’s drop out of the top spot was not good. When he was knocked out in the quarters at the French Open, he was one week shy of tying Peter Sampras’ career record of 286 total weeks at Number 1!

Following Federer’s Australian Open victory in January when he earned his 16th Grand Slam Championship, his fans thought they would be graced with his dominant play for at least one more season. But the 28-year-old father of twin girls simply can’t consistently beat the bigger, stronger, younger dynamos. On any given day, one of these hard-hitting players, who are taller and/or stronger and/or bigger, and who have speed as well, are going to find a way to beat him by overpowering him. And Federer, normally not a complainer, had mentioned he has had back and leg issues.

Meanwhile, Nadal, who has had knee problems and other injuries throughout his career, is as explosive and strong as can be. And he’s only 24-years-old. And if he stays healthy, Nadal could be a factor to deal with for a long time. And if anyone should replace Federer at the top of the game, Nadal makes for a gracious, humble champion.

But while Nadal should continue to dazzle, don’t forget that he needs to win eight more Grand Slam titles before tying Federer’s record of 16! That’s a lot of titles and would require extraordinary wear and tear, both physically and mentally. Roger Federer was able to stay remarkably healthy, physically, for a long period of time. The magician found ways to win with his speed, finesse, smarts and talent to prolong an incredible career.

The question becomes, how hungry will Federer be to win a sixth US Open title? Can the 28-year-old find a way to yet again capture America’s most important title? Now may be Nadal’s time but with the US Open approaching, Federer still has something to fight for and will not want to pass the torch quietly. No great champion would. Nadal has yet to get past the semi-finals at the US Open. Federer won five straight from 2004-2008 and lost in the finals last year to Juan Martin del Potro in five sets. But two early exits in two huge tournaments this season could be enough to motivate Federer to kick it up a notch. Health – hunger – and a little bit of luck. That’s what it takes. Stay tuned. It’s not quite over and out for the former number one!

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Be sure to join Ann Liguori and her celebrity friends at the Ann Liguori Foundation Outback Steakhouse Dinner Dance, benefiting the American Cancer Society and ‘Healthy Children, Healthy Futures,’ at Duck Walk Vineyards in Water Mill, on Saturday, July 17th, starting at 6.30am. Great food, wine, music and silent and live auction items that include sports memorabilia, golf trips, opportunities to play some of the top golf courses in the area and globally, Judith Ripka jewelry and much more! To register, download, print and send in this form.


Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com