Scary thought but is Federer getting better?

Well, it could have been worse. At least the first set was exciting. I’m sure Fernando Gonzalez is happy that he reached his first slam final and his ranking is all the way up to number 5, but how must it feel to steamroller your way past the number 12, 5 and 2 players in the world and hit 177 more winners than errors and still lose the final in straight sets. For sure he would have felt much better if he’d taken at least one set home with him.

He had a good shot at it. At 4-4 in the first set, Gonzalez hit a net cord that bounced over Federer’s head then Federer followed with an error to give Gonzalez a break point. On the next point Gonzalez blasted a few passing shots at Federer until he missed one and Gonzalez was up a break.

Gonzalez had two set points on his serve in the next game but Federer snuck in and hit a beautiful backhand volley that tapered away from Gonzalez. On the second set point, Gonzalez got an opening after serving Federer wide but he put the ball into the net. That may have unsettled Gonzo because he missed a few first serves and that was that, after two set points he lost the game to go down a break.

Before the match, Federer’s coach Tony Roche said that Gonzalez’ slice didn’t penetrate deeply and he expected Federer to attack it. Roche must also have told Federer to attack early and often to avoid getting bombarded by more of those winners Gonzalez has been hitting this past two weeks because it looked like two guys trying to get off the court as soon as possible in the early going.

In the first set tiebreak, Gonzalez hit a few forehand errors to go down 3-0 and lost the tiebreak 7-2.

There were some good games in the second set too. Gonzalez was still slamming the ball and Federer short-hopped a forehand off the baseline to hit a passing shot past the charging Gonzalez. In the seventh game, Federer hit the lines with three straight shots before he finally made Gonzalez miss a shot. Unfortunately that gave Federer a break point and Federer went up a break.

Then the match became routine. Federer held serve, Gonzalez held serve. Not much else happened. Federer almost hit a winner off a Gonzalez overhead. A few ball kids chased down a moth or some sort of bug that was dancing around the court.

With Gonzalez serving at 3-3 in the third set, something exciting did happen: the best point of the match by far. It was a baseline rally until Gonzalez hit a short ball and Federer came in and hit a slice approach shot. Gonzalez put up a lob and Federer had to hit and an emergency backhand overhead up in the air to get it over the net. Federer got to the net again on another short slice by and this time hit a much more solid backhand overhead. Gonzalez got to it and hit it down the line but Federer stretched out and blocked the ball back into the open court.

Roche was right, Gonzalez’ slice backhand didn’t penetrate, it came up short. More to the point, it gave Federer a break point. Gonzalez saved that one and it took a total of four break points but Federer got his break and a few games later he had his tenth slam.

Thankfully it wasn’t as dominant a performance as Federer’s semifinal win over Andy Roddick but the second and third sets were close. Federer lost two points on his serve in the second set and two more in the third set. That’s it, four points lost on serve in the last two sets. Oh, and he also won the tournament in straight sets. He’s the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win a slam without dropping a set.

Scary thought but is Federer getting better? He lost one set on his way to winning Wimbledon last year and two sets at the US Open. This is his 36th straight win which is a record for him. Gonzalez put it well after the match: “I have to congratulate again, again Roger. He’s a great champion. He played a really good match today, through the whole week and almost through the whole of his life.”

There was one slight conflict in the match. Federer hit a backhand winner but it was called wide. Federer challenged the call successfully and the chair umpire ruled that the point had to be replayed because Gonzalez stopped moving when the out call was made. Federer protested a bit then went back to the baseline. This is important because the chair umpire was Sandra de Jenken, the first woman to ever umpire a men’s slam singles final and it went flawlessly.

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