KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – Roger Federer has heard his name shouted appreciatively in arenas across the world. But it was different this time as the full-house crowd at Crandon Park vocalized a tsunami of sound –
“ ROGER! ROGER! ROGER!” over and over so boisterously it may have been heard in Switzerland. They were mighty roars from most of the 13,800 throats, but not the usual sounds of commendation. No. It was midway through the second set, and his people were sending a message. The cheers were a mixture of love, respect, great memories and belief.
But also desperation.
Roger was being hammered by the man in his head – Rafa Nadal, and you didn’t have to be Nostradamous to predict that he would be beaten badly.
This outdoor semifinal of the Sony Ericsson Open held the elements of a championship prizefight with two heavyweights of the game squaring off – Roger hopeful of regaining the No. 1 medal that Rafa had taken from him. Roger, lately demoted to No. 3, but confident that he can climb to the summit again, had the customers. (Some of them paid scalpers $ 2000 a seat; Rafa and Roger hadn’t clashed in the USA for 6 years.)
However, Rafa had the shots, the moves, the confidence, and in 78 minutes the decision that was more one-sided than Obama over McKain, 6-3, 6-2.
That gathering of Federophiles, thundering his name, prayed that he’d get off the canvas, avoiding a knockout. It wasn’t to be. “Roundhouse Rafa” unleashing those huge southpaw hooks, kept Roger guessing, groping and grounded in perhaps the worst defeat of his career. Rafa’s edge in the Great Rivalry is now 15-8.
“Definitely nice to hear my name in the stadium. I was down in the score,” Roger said. “I’ve had some great times in Miami, winning twice.” That was 2004 and 2005. The years go by. Rafa will be 25 soon, Roger 30.
“I played very good,” said Rafa, trying to be kind to his pal. “He made more mistakes than usual. He tried to play shorter points. He didn’t play well.”
Roger held one break point – wow! – and failed as he fell behind rapidly.
But I’m not one of those Roger-has-had-it guys. He’s extremely fit and motivated, and will show us some good stuff at Wimbledon and the US Open.
I must remind him that Rod Laver was 31 when he racked up his second Grand Slam in 1969.