Bits and pieces from the past are repeating themselves. The last time these bits happened, they shook/heaved/shocked/stunned or in general, caused conspicuous change to the world of tennis. Here is a look at the déjà vu moments and what they might lead to this time around.
We’ve all talked about Roger’s tough draw and how his possible opponents will all be a serious threat. Before that could even so much as become a realistic possibility, they were all buzzed out like flies in an electric incinerator, in a flash. Lopez, Roddick and Nalbandian were out of Roland Garros in quicker time than it takes Novak Djokovic to serve at break point. Those people he did face, however, were quite up to the task of giving the Swiss a fair work-out.
The bit of history that repeated was his 4th round match against the pint-sized Belgian, David Goffin. Remember the 4th round match at Wimbledon, back in 2001, when a 19 year Federer old took on his idol and defending champion Pete Sampras and dethroned him. That was Roger’s moment of reckoning. That was the moment that changed Federer. He went from being just a remarkable talent to a potential champion. For one set and a half, Goffin looked determined to recreate that bit of history, as he fought and fought well to keep his idol under his tiny thumb. Not quite long enough though. He lost, but not before showing that he too is a remarkable talent. Who knows, had that extra bit of history happened, maybe, eight years down the road, we could be mentioning the kid along with all the other greats. Speculation is such a wonderful thing.
The other bit of history is not particular to this tournament. It’s a bit that has happened over the entire season. It concerns Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro and it’s a bit that has been anticipated for a while now.
In 2009, Federer faced Del Potro five times. These five matches, more than anything, reflect the progress and growth of the Argentine. In the Australian Open, he won a total of 3 games. On clay in Madrid, he was kept down again, not quite like the Australian Open but still in straight sets. Then they met here, in Paris and Del Potro took the match to five sets, breaking back in the fifth too but not quite enough.
Cut to 2012, they’ve faced-off in the Australian Open, where Federer won in simple straight sets. They met a few other times in between that and Roland Garros with Federer sailing past with relative ease. Then we come into Paris, just like 2009, Federer having won the tournament at Madrid and in fair form. And just like 2009, we had a five setter. This time Del Potro took a two sets to love lead before trouble from his knee and exhaustion allowed Federer to sneak past.
The last time these little things happened, the world of tennis witnessed its first major upheaval in quite some time. In New York, in the US Open, Del Potro finally came into his own, stunning everybody by first dismantling Nadal and then defeating Federer (a first, no one ever having defeated the two in a Grand Slam up till then) – becoming the first man outside the top 3 and the first non-European since Gaston Gaudio to win a major title. Basically, a lot happened.
Since his injury through the 2010 season, Del Potro has risen back to the top strongly, easily displacing those who had sneaked up in his absence. This speaks volumes about the Argentine’s game and character. All except one of his losses in 2012 have come against a top 5 opponents, four of those against Roger Federer.
2009 was his best year on tour and 2012 seems to be heading in the same direction.
US Open will be very, very interesting.
[P.S. – On an unrelated note, “The Curse of the reigning Women’s Champion”, might’ve been slightly weakened but it still continues to hold. Vika Azarenka went out in the fourth round.]