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January 29, 2010

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Australian Open 2010, Melbourne, Australia
January 29, 2010
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Federer Flies
January 29, 2010 -- Roger Federer likes rhythm. Once he senses it he moves to the music, his feet a quarter beat ahead like an orchestral conductor's wand. Federer's footwork on a tennis court is akin to Fred Astaire's footwork on the dance floor -- graceful, precise, studied.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on the other hand, is the Gene Kelly of tennis: athletic, spirited and hip. Tsonga epitomizes hip-hop while Federer a waltz.
Fans this evening at Rod Laver Arena were more subdued than usual, as these two men played a musical score of tennis for the privilege of a berth in the men's final of the 2010 Australian Open. For the Frenchman, the evening was a disappointment. For the world's number one player, the evening was exhilarating. He exhibited his style of swashbuckling tennis from start to finish, orchestrating his elements of style in a way that lifted his success as points accumulated in his favor.
In less than an hour and a half Federer defeated Tsonga 62 63 62. Fans were quiet because the match flew by. They witnessed a thrashing and needed time to process it. Witness a sensational performance of, let's say, Cirque du Soleil, and when it's over you might remain in your seat astounded by what you saw while attempting to understand it.
"I feel good about my game," Federer began. "I didn't expect something even close to this kind of scoreline, so obviously it feels great."
Federer had 33 winners and 13 unforced errors. He won 84% of the points when he connected with his first serve. Numbers are tricky. They leave out the nuances of a match. But in this instance, the stats don't lie about the level of play. Federer danced his way into his ninth consecutive major final -- that's the last nine finals of a Major since Roland Garros, 2008. He has either won or been the runner-up in seventeen of the last eighteen Majors.
"Well, maybe after a few games, I felt like this could be a good match for me," he said. "I felt like right from the start I was hitting the ball well. I'm not panicking. It's really only after maybe the first four sets of two service games each. Then I have a little bit of an idea where it can take us."
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga strolled on Rod Laver Arena court and glanced up at the audience, looking a little shy and overwhelmed. It was a huge occasion, of course. He'd been here before against Rafael Nadal in 2007. That night he dazzled Down Under, permanently etching his face on the map of exemplary tennis performances. Nadal couldn't do anything; and Nadal tries everything in a semifinal of a Major. The Frenchman defeated the Spaniard and lost to Novak Djokovic in the final.
Tsonga, today, played the first set as if he hadn't prepared a game plan, as if he thought he could work his way into the competition - like, on the fly. He had every reason to expect that of himself. He can pull aces out of his back pocket the way a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. He did it against Nicolas Almagro in the round of 16 and then in the quarters against a depleted Djokovic. Tsonga's slight of hand vanished this evening, though.
At times he grabbed at his stomach, too, stretching his bright yellow shirt as if something were physically wrong.
"No, no," Tsonga started. "I was just a bit more tired after the first set."
Tsonga has been injured frequently. He also played two five-set matches (Almagro and Djokovic) leading to this semifinal. These were his first five sets matches of his young and blossoming tennis career. Tsonga was tired. Federer played out of his mind.
"He was really good, and that's it," Tsonga said. "He took the ball earlier than me, and he was just better than me today. I learned maybe that I have to play better. That's it [smiling]."
Federer's continued success -- he could win his 16th Major on Sunday -- begs the question: how does he stay healthy? Nadal, Federer's chief rival, awaits a MRI report concerning his right knee. Dinara Safina's back and the bone edema that plagues it sound career threatening. How does Roger Federer skip around on court, blow half the draw away in 23 majors and come out the other end injury free?
Truth is, he has sustained two injuries since turning pro in 1999. Two. His back and his right ankle. He tore three ligaments in his right ankle as he practiced in Basel in 2005. He was off tour for six weeks. In 2008, he withdrew from a Davis Cup tie due to a 'nagging concern,' as he phrased it, about his back. It originally flared late in the season and forced him to retire against James Blake at The Paris Masters. He also didn't advance beyond the round robin stage of The Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai that year.
According to research found in the online publication of Sports Injury Bulletin, Federer has done many things right to maintain fitness. He is also blessed with many inherent qualities.
"'He has the model tennis physique: tall enough to serve big and cover the net, but not too tall to move around the baseline; heavy enough for powerful stroke-making, but light enough to be agile and not put excessive strain on his lower limbs.'"
The article goes on to say that Roger's ability to stay in balance and composed allow him to 'react and be explosive when moving and hitting.' This skill results from his 'core stability, body awareness and anticipation.'
"'Tennis players have to undergo tough training of their energy systems. They need a large aerobic base and a highly effective anaerobic system. Federer seems to have found the right balance for his game style. He may not have the largest endurance base compared with some of the top clay-court players, but he definitely still functions well at the end of a five-set match. And, anaerobically he is outstanding.'"
This gives some insight into how Federer has maintained his physical stability. Mentally, he loves the game. He loves what he does. He is happy and successful, especially since he won The French Open. The combination of his physical prowess and his mental fortitude is, obviously, one of the winningest combinations in sports.
Federer will have to again orchestrate all his systems on Sunday in this highly anticipated men's singles final with Andy Murray. The Scotsman is also a specimen of athletic abilities and acumen. He does everything as well as Federer and holds a winning record: 6-4. Murray has amped up his aggression. If he has truly left his defensive game in the dust and made the leap, the match will be close and supremely entertaining. But final flutters can cause even the best to stumble at inopportune times.

Earlier Columns from this Event:
January 28, 2010 Australian Open: The Long and Short of It
January 27, 2010 Australian Open: Semis Set For Singles
January 26, 2010 Australian Open: It's Something To Think About
January 25, 2010 Australian Open: Tennis's Tough Standards
January 24, 2010 Australian Open: Competition, Pure and Simple
January 23, 2010 Australian Open: Stosur, Hewitt Advance, Dellacqua Goes Home To Perth
January 22, 2010 Australian Open: Little Known, Little Being Said
January 21, 2010 Australian Open: The Happy Slam
January 20, 2010 Australian Open: Margin Of Error
January 19, 2010 Australian Open: Soderling Shocked, Oudin Ousted
January 18, 2010 Australian Open: And We Begin, Again; Australian Open kicks off with impromptu benefit for Haiti

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