Federer remains a major factor

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / August 29, 2010

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NEW YORK — Riding in a car a few days before the start of the US Open, Roger Federer was discussing the state of his game during a telephone interview when he suddenly interjected a warning.

“Just so you know, I’m going through the Midtown Tunnel here,’’ Federer said, “so if we get cut off, I’ll call you back, OK?’’

Which illustrated two traits: The guy is exceedingly polite — and he knows his way around New York quite well. The latter quality might result from so many extended stays in the Big Apple over the years, sticking around long enough to reach every men’s final at Flushing Meadows since 2004.

If there have been questions raised in recent months about where Federer’s career is headed, there is at least one person who is adamant that it’s far too soon to write him off.

You guessed it: Federer himself.

“As high as my confidence has been the last few years,’’ Federer said, “I don’t feel like I’m any less confident.’’

When the Open begins tomorrow, Rafael Nadal will try to complete a career Grand Slam, Andy Murray will seek his first major title and Novak Djokovic his second, and Andy Roddick will aim to end an American drought.

And Federer? He gets a chance to show that reports of his demise are premature, and that he still possesses the on-court qualities that let him lord over tennis for so long: the slick movement, the sublime forehand, and the pinpoint serve on display in that popular is-it-real-or-fake YouTube video.

“Rafa, Murray, and Djokovic are all looking good, too, so I think it’s going to be a US Open with multiple favorites,’’ Federer said. “But I guess I’m one of the big ones or bigger ones — if not the biggest one — because of my history here over the last six years, making the final each year.’’

That run includes five championships, part of his record haul of 16 Grand Slam titles. It also helped Federer accumulate semifinals-or-better showings at a record 23 consecutive major tournaments, a streak that ended with a quarterfinal loss at this year’s French Open.

Another quarterfinal exit followed a month later at Wimbledon, where Federer has won six titles. While many players would be satisfied or even thrilled to reach the quarterfinals at two Grand Slam tournaments in a row, the world has come to expect so much more from Federer.

“I’m sure he’s highly motivated to kind of get it right after what, for him, are disappointing Grand Slam results — and for other people are very good Grand Slam results,’’ said Roddick, whose 2003 US Open victory was the last major title for an American man.

That pair of early-for-him exits by Federer, plus a six-month title drought, plus a brief slip to No. 3 in the rankings for the first time since 2003 (he’s now back up to No. 2, behind Nadal), plus his age (he turned 29 on Aug. 8), led some to wonder whether he would ever win another Grand Slam title.

Others simply shrugged.

“He’s human, even though he was making results that didn’t seem human the last five, six years,’’ said Djokovic, whose only losses at the past three US Opens came against Federer, in the 2007 final and the 2008 and ’09 semifinals.

Federer has heard negative talk before.

In 2008, he went through a stretch of three Grand Slam tournaments without taking a title. Fans began sending Federer letters of support and even instructional DVDs to help the cause.

How silly did Federer make that all seem? First, he won that year’s US Open. Then, in 2009, he captured his first French title to complete a career Grand Slam and tie Pete Sampras’s mark of 14 majors. And to cap the “comeback,’’ he regained his Wimbledon championship for record-setting No. 15.