From 4 AM to 6 AM EST today, Roger Federer was out of his mind.
"I was unbeatable," Federer said. "I was playing out of my mind. I am shocked myself."
That's right -- even Federer had to admit that he was playing on another level when he beat Andy Roddick today in the Australian Open semifinals.
If you read about Roger Federer or watch him play, writers and announcers frequently use the term "art" when referring to the best player in the world. His complete skill set, his precision of movement, his unbelievable vision and ability to make seemingly impossible shots -- together these qualities make the best player in the world. But for Federer these are merely different hues of paint to be spread liberally and with staggering grace across a wide canvas. By all accounts, this morning's match against Andy Roddick -- who beat Federer in an exhibition match less than two weeks ago and seemed to be doing well under Coach Jimmy Connors -- was a masterpiece.
But what else can we say? Hyperbole and language now fail us. Last August, David Foster Wallace wrote an excellent essay called "Federer as Religious Experience." Religion, art, grace: we are rapidly approaching a coronation, and it will not be long until Federer wins the 5 grand slams he needs to tie Pete Sampras for the most all-time. Then, and that day will be soon, we will have no choice but to call him the best tennis player of all time.
"I've played good matches here, but never really almost destroyed somebody," Federer said. "I've done it at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, French Open. Maybe not so much here because I didn't get so many chances yet. For me, that's a highlight of my career. I'm very, very happy about it."
He almost destroyed a man! And if you don't know Federer, these remarks come from an exceedingly humble man, one known for his understated demeanor and kindness. But even Federer can no longer resist the siren call of his own greatness.
Roddick was hard on himself after the match.
"It was frustrating. You know, it was miserable. ... terrible," Roddick said. "I was playing well coming in. I didn't foresee it."
Roddick was playing some of the best tennis of his career entering the match, but it didn't matter. He may not have forseen this, but we now know that nothing is impossible for Federer. He has yet to drop a set in the Australian Open. For Roddick, there's no cause for embarrassment. He simply must acknowledge that there's little he can do, and the less he thinks about this, the better. No one will blame him. No one will say he underachieved or didn't work hard enough.
It's simply not fair -- unless you're a sports fan, in which case, who could ask for more?
Some other thoughts on Greatness:
In this post-modern age, it's easy and perhaps forgivable to feel cynical about the state of professional sports. Commercialism, poor behavior, criminal records, and performance enhancing drugs can discourage the casual fan, especially when looked at under the mighty magnifying glass of ESPN, sports radio, and the endless streams of armchair analysts (this blog included). But if you look beyond all of that -- read: forget about them, us, this blog -- there is an incredible crop of young athletes in professional sports today. Forget about their characters, though many of them are fine people. Just observe the names, watch them play, and realize that this is a great time to be a sports fan.
Many of the following athletes, all 26 years old or younger, could one day go down among the best to ever play their respective games.
- MLB: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Carl Crawford, Justin Verlander, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Mark Teixeira, Howie Kendrick (the one speculative pick I'll allow myself)
- NBA: Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Paul, Yao Ming
- NHL: Sydney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Ilya Kovalchuk, Rick Nash, Dany Heatley