Photo by Lionel Bonaventure (AFP)
Yesterday, Roger Federer won the French Open for the first time in his career, becoming only the sixth male tennis player ever to win all four of the Grand Slam tournaments, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and the French. He is now tied with Pete Sampras for the most Grand Slam championships in his career with fourteen. Many now consider him the greatest tennis player of all time, and none will argue that he has been the most dominant player of this century.
Americans don't pay that much attention to the French Open because Americans suck at this tournament so bad. It is one of the most difficult tests in all of sport, because it asks athletes to completely change their game. On grass or on regular hard surfaces, men's tennis is about the serve and the return of serve. On clay, the game is about endurance and ground strokes. Many of the greatest players of the last forty years, the era when professionals were allowed to play at the biggest tournaments, never won the French Open. The list of people shut out on the clay of Roland Garros includes Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, John Newcombe, John McEnroe and Pete Sampras. The Swedish great Björn Borg is still included in the conversation as one of the greatest of all time because he could dominate both on the clay of the French Open and the grass at Wimbledon. Borg never won the Australian Open, which he only played once. The glaring omission in his career is no championships at the U.S. Open, where he made the final four times, losing twice to Connors and twice to McEnroe.
Luck in a tennis tournament is the luck of the draw, the list of people you have to play to win. Federer got lucky this year, because a relative unknown crushed the tough competition on the other side of the bracket. Robin Soderling, the 23rd seed in the tournament, beat Rafael Nadal, the best clay court player in the world, and also beat several other good players to get to the final. Soderling's lifetime record against Federer before the tournament started was 0-9. It's now 0-10, as Federer crushed him in three straight sets.
Americans lose interest in a sport when the best players aren't Americans, but there's no denying it. Roger Federer is the most dominant tennis player in the world, and could be the greatest of all time.
Photo by Mike Munden (AP)
There wasn't a major golf tournament on the schedule this week, but Tiger Woods, who gets to pick and choose when he plays, always shows up at The Memorial, the tournament founded by Jack Nicklaus, the only other person in the conversation when it comes to the greatest golfer of all time. Woods has returned from surgery this year, and his play hasn't been as sharp as we've come to expect. In many tournaments since his return, he has looked like just another good golfer instead of the most dominant athlete in his sport. On Friday, he shot a two over par 74, his worst round of golf in several years. He played better on Saturday, but was still in sixth place, four shots off the pace starting play on Sunday. In the final round, he shot a seven under par 65, with an eagle, seven birdies and two bogeys to win the tournament by one stroke. He birdied the final two holes to post a score in the clubhouse no one could match. While he has one tournament victory prior to this one since his return from surgery, there were serious doubts abut whether he could still dominate. The U.S. Open begins a week from Thursday at the very difficult Bethpage Black golf course, where Tiger has won before. As of today, no one doubts he can dominate at the Open. As to whether he will or not... stay tuned.