The Men’s Final: Thank You, Gentlemen

The Australian Open concluded today with the men’s final, this guy named Federer won the cookie in four sets. But does it really matter what name we affix on that fine-looking piece of silverware? Baghdatis, Federer, Federer, Baghdatis. What really counted was that these two great guys went out and put on a good show, and right when we needed it the most. After the abominable play yesterday of Justine Henin-Hardenne in the women’s final, it would have been horrific if the men had left us with a less than stellar match. We needed cleansing, baby, and today we got cleansed. We won’t have to adjourn with our morose selves to the local pub after all, and drown the sorrows with one slab of tinnies after another. A modest cocktail would do just fine though, thanks. We can savor it as we can look back and savor this match.

In the run-up to the match however, some prognosticators were suggesting it might be a blow-out. That did not happen, although clearly Marcos Baghdatis went away in those last two sets. No one is going to hold that against him, because he went out there and for the first two sets he kept Roger in a tight little box. Think Houdini, clamped in chains, in the box, and into the water went he. The fun became in seeing whether Baghdatis could keep him there. Baghdatis has been his own Houdini figure in this tournament too, having escaped from several near debacles in reaching the final. He simply ran into a master magician today.

Federer has beaten Baghdatis several times in the past year, you would think the guy might have the Cypriot’s number. But a different Baghdatis showed up today from what Federer had seen before. His serve for one thing has really increased in power and speed. His first serves were going in today at ten miles faster than they were a year ago. His confidence too, which allowed him to hang in long rallies with the world’s number one.

It took Federer nearly two full sets to get his game on track. He may have been a little surprised Baghdatis came out firing like he did. The occasion did not phase Marcos at all, he was serving big, he looked relaxed, his shots were sticking, and his backhand down the line gave Roger Federer a taste of his own medicine. When Roger Federer loses, he loses to the guys with great backhands down the line, like Rafael Nadal, Richard Gasquet and David Nalbandian.

Federer piled up 16 errors in the first set alone. And Rod Laver was watching from the stands. Gulp. Was there a Laver factor in this match? Yes, in that Fed clearly wanted to play well in front of one of his idols. No way was Roger going to lose. Maybe Coach Roche could persuade Mr. Laver to attend more Roger matches. The guy could bring a bit of luck.

I love watching this man win. He leaps in delight with the joy of a little kid who’s been locked up in the pastry shop overnight. And he overflows in tearful emotion when he hugs Rod Laver during the trophy presentation. Thanks loads to ESPN2 for not even bothering to show the ceremony. They also knocked several games off the third set. It took me a bit to realize they’d flash forwarded, but at first you think your mind is going. It may be, this tournament was long and exhausting to cover. Then they changed the match time. It was scheduled for 12 noon pacific time, but for some reason it got moved up to 9 a.m. I just happened onto it as I was trolling the airways. Thanks guys.

After the first two sets were split, 5-7 Baghdatis, then 7-5 to Federer, you could feel it coming. “The sleeper hold” as Brad Gilbert termed it. Roger started to build confidence, he started coming forward more. Errors crept into the Baghdatis game. Then the ESPN2 guys spin us forward to 5-0. A crucial but correct overrule at the end of the third set goes against Baghdatis. He loses it 6-0, but that call seems to nearly gut the poor man completely.

In the fourth set, Baghdatis has flashes of energy, but Roger keeps shutting the door on him. Marcos begins cramping in one calf and we can see the writing on the wall now. Roger is feeling good enough that he starts in with those drop shots, three of them in one game. It’s like “fooling around,” says Federer. He maintains he doesn’t like to use them all that much because of that. Guy, it’s OK. Come on over and we’ll fool around, we want to tell the man.

Roger breaks Baghdatis to win the final set, 6-2. But no one really lost today in the big view of things. We got the clean taste we were hoping for.

This was an interesting Grand Slam to cover, lots of stuff happened. We saw the arrival of a spectacular new talent, Marcos Baghdatis. A whole new chapter starts for him.

We saw Martina Hingis, losing finally in her dramatic run but really a big winner overall in the singles just by her being here and playing well. A whole new chapter begins for her. Today she notched up a mixed doubles, so welcome to the Dollhouse, baby face.

Tommy Haas will hopefully go on to a great resurgent year. He showed us some good stuff here. His countryman Nicolas Kiefer did too, but unfortunately he had to remind us of what a pain in the ass he really is as well.

And Justine Henin-Hardenne. Should we hope that she might show some sort of contrition in the days ahead? Don’t hold your breath, she never acknowledged what happened with Serena Williams at Roland Garros two years ago. Why start now?

Hey, let’s all give little Justine a leg up as she attempts a recovery from her…ah…stomach whatever. Can someone find her address at home in Belgium? Because I think we should all buy her lots and lots of Tums. And send them to her with all dispatch. God forbid she should be caught Tum-less in future events.

We could at least tie up the mail carriers in Belgium for a month or two.

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