Thursday 22 March 2018

Tennis: Federer proves class with another master stroke

Mark Hodgkinson in New York

FOR most of this summer, people have been doubting Roger Federer's brilliance, wondering whether he is a phony in a $5,000 suit.

He went viral before the US Open, with a video uploaded on to the internet which supposedly found him goofing around at an advertising shoot and, just because he could, firing a serve that knocked a bottle clean off a man's head. Many in tennis, though, considered the William Tell clip to be about as real as Andre Agassi's old hair-pieces. Who, you might have thought, still believes in Roger Federer?

There can be no quibbling about the authenticity of Federer's piece of skill here at Flushing Meadows, with the Swiss creating an instant YouTube classic and what was surely 'the greatest shot of all time', better even than last season's stroke in his semi-final against Novak Djokovic on the New York cement.

When Argentina's Brian Dabul sent up a lob, he was getting himself into a whole heap of trouble, as Federer sprinted back, and facing away from the court, and almost smack up against the backstop of the Arthur Ashe Stadium, he swung his racket back through his legs. There was no time to turn around to check where the ball had landed: all he had to do was wait for the noise.

No clever video-editing was required before this shot was replayed on the giant screens inside the stadium and across Flushing Meadows. "What did you think of that?" asked Federer, five times a champion in New York, and the king of the video clips.

At the time, Federer described last year's stroke as the finest shot of his career. But the Swiss, the runner-up last season to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, and who next plays Germany's Andreas Beck, left it up to others to decide which of the shots was greater.

He did say, however, that this year's was a harder one technically, "because I had the feeling I had to run a longer distance and I was further back somehow -- I thought I was a bit late and had to give it one last push to get there but thought, 'I could do this again'." It is not just that Federer has the talent to play such shots; it is that he has the confidence bordering on arrogance to try it at the Grand Slams.

Of course, these hot-dog shots do not always work. He tried one when he had match point against Marat Safin in the semi-finals of the 2005 Australian Open. He flunked the shot and lost the match.

Here in New York, the play worked brilliantly, and it would have been odd if the crowd had not given him a standing ovation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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