NEW YORK – The Busher went home with $ 160,000, a surge in his world ranking and a newfound reputation as the De-luxembourger.
Everybody at the U.S. Open was glad for the big man from the little country. Six-foot-6 Gilles Muller, on a left-winged serve and a prayer, had bombed his way through a string of upsets, including No. 5 Nikolay Davydenko, and as a kind of serf – a qualifier ranked No. 130 – arrived among the nobility, the last eight.
Roger Federer was there Thursday to greet him with, “The luck stops here!” But, pumping his ranking up to No. 65, Muller won’t have to creep back down to the bush leagues for a while.
The folks were also glad for Federer’s 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), decision, his 32nd straight at Flushing Meadow, because he is one of the most popular tennis players ever to work this town, regardless of his alien status.
There are Swiss watches, bank accounts, chocolates, Alps and cheeses – but there is only one Roger Federer. Quality all the way. A modest but straightforward champion who has made the game look so smooth and effortless.
But his countless devotees are worried about him, too. He isn’t the same player who walked way from the Billie Jean King Center a year ago hugging his fourth trophy. A step slower, not as sure on his strokes and his serve that used to hit the corners and lines with greater regularity. Not finished as a great by any means at 27, but it will be very hard for him to win more majors.
Is he bothered by traces of the mononucleosis? If so he wouldn’t tell you. But he has made difficult work of No. 28 Radek Stepanek, No. 23 Igor Andreev and Muller.
My pick, Novak Djokovic, earned a rematch with Federer – they were finalists in 2007 – in a curious victory over 2003 champ Andy Roddick, 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5). Andy seemed absent the first two sets, but later was within points of getting even and sending it into a fifth. Novak toughed it out to win, but lost the crowd. He’s cocky, too much proud chest pounding, gave an awkward on-court interview, criticizing Roddick. That got him booed by 23,000-plus – a good lesson.
At least Federer hasn’t, so far, been victimized by the goofy scheduling at the Open. Wednesday night Rafa Nadal and Mardy Fish got off the main court at 2:11 AM Thursday. Ridiculous. Yet it could have been worse. Suppose the Sisters Williams had played a third set, and a fifth set had gripped Andy Murray-Juan Martin Del Potro and Nadal-Fish? Tennis balls instead of eggs would have been served at breakfast time.
The problem: two women’s doubles matches started the Wednesday program in Ashe Stadium. Bad judgement. They ran overly long, and backed up everything else crazily. They should have been originally booked for Armstrong Stadium, and the quarter-final of Dinara Safina and Flavia Pennetta put on instead for openers at 11 AM, followed by Murray and Del Potro’s 4-hour struggle.
Then Venus and Serena would have begun at the appointed hour, 7 PM, and Nadal and Fish could have finished at midnight.
Too often the Open’s scheduling is just as preposterous, perhaps satisfying various TV demands, but at the expense of the paying customers, loyalists who fill the Center. Man’s inhumanity to fan – and to players.
The scheduling is the worst of the four majors in that neither the men’s nor women’s finalists get a day’s rest prior to their title bouts. This is particularly hard on the men: best-of-five set semis Saturday, and final on Sunday. Doesn’t happen at the Australian, French or Wimbledon.
Plus, Thursday – can you believe this? — the show opened with a couple of good old boys playing singles. Todd Martin and Michael Chang. Puh-leeze. The red meat – Andy Rodick and Novak Djokovic – should have been thrown at the customers at 7. If anybody wanted to stay afterwards for a memory lane memento, fine.
Another goof: the women’s seeding. Venus was seeded 7th, Serena 4th. So they wind up colliding in a quarter-final. Is that any way to treat the two best ladies in the business? They played the Wimbledon final, a beaut. Remember? Did the tournament officials forget that?
Actually Venus ranks No. 8 and Serena No. 3. But the management has the power to adjust seedings, regardless of rankings, and let the opportunity to slip by undone. For shame. Venus should have been seeded 1st, Serena 2nd. You don’t leave the Wimbledon finalists to the mercy of Medusa, the Women’s Tennis Assn. computer.
Ah well, it’s a great Open, even if splattered at times by looney tunes. One thing is sure, if the people’s choices are the champs, they will be Serena and Roger.
And I hope his countrymen give the king of the Bushers, Gilles Muller a welcoming parade the length of Luxembourg.