In the wake of football season entering hibernation mode, the tennis world ushered in its 2006 season with its first major - the Australian Open. As is becoming second nature, Roger Federer played with a giant target on his back and once again, emerged victorious, lucky number 7 Grand Slam title for the 24-year-old from Basel, Switzerland. Naysayers will claim Roger won a watered down draw with top talents Andre Agassi andRafael Nadal withdrawing due to injury in addition to Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt making early exits. Such close-minded folks don't understand that keeping your body in great shape while combatting the elements is an integral part of the game that never derails the true champions.
Back to the match that was much harder than the 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 score indicated. Making uncharacteristic mistakes and visibly frustrated from the tenacious unknown entity Marcos Baghdatis, Federer dropped the 1st set and fell down a break in the 2nd. The most unfathommable of victories was ever so slowly becoming a reality for the 20-year-old native of Cyprus. Federer looked vulnerable, on the precipice of a Buster Douglas KO'ing Tyson upset. Just when things looked bleak, Roger ducked into his on-court telephone booth and Super Roger emerged to turn the tide. The well ran dry for the likable Baghdatis in his coming out party, but not before adding his name to the short list of young stars poised to usher in a new era for the ATP Tour. It would have been the first chink in the armor of Roger, who has distanced himself from the tennis pack in dominating fashion. A quick recap of the Maestro's tour de force the past 2+ years reveals the growing gap between Federer and the field.
Cracking through with his 2003 Wimbledon championship, Federer followed up with a 4th round showing at the U.S. Open and closed the year pummelling Andre Agassi to win the Tennis Masters Cup. He compiled an eye-popping 76-4 record in 2004, capturing the Australian, Wimbledon and U.S. Open crowns, then defended his Tennis Masters Cup by dispensing Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets. 2005 only got better with an otherworldly 81-4 record, repeating at the All-England Club and Flushing Meadows and losing in the semis in both the Australian and French. The French looms as his Slam albatross, an inevitable triumph considering he took Rafael Nadal, arguably the finest clay-courter on tour, to the wire at Roland Garros in last year's semifinals. So far, he's perfect for 2006 with two titles in his pocket.
But the most telling sign that it's Roger's world and we're lucky to breathe his same rarefied air is how he relishes playing on the biggest stage. Relinquishing a mere 3 sets in 7 appearances in a Grand Slam Final isn't just dominant, it's downright cruel. Roger wouldn't bat an eye outgazing pressure in a staring contest. The tennis world is a floating volley in Roger's reach and he's slamming the competition emphatically. History is in the making as Roger could become the greatest champion to pick up a racket. His game blends textbook fundamentals, dogged determination and a flair for the theatric as he glides effortlessly around the court going through the motions of victory. He makes the game look easy utilizing any playing style necessary to befuddle his opponent. Federer's brilliance against his peers is on par with Tiger Wood's annual PGA romp and keeps pace with Lance Armstrong's cycling prowess. The competition must look like Herschel Walker to the maestro matchman.