By Matt Cronin
So much for a long-term Roger Federer slump.
Adding another chapter to his already bulging book of major titles, the great Swiss brilliantly salvaged a spotty year and won his fifth successive US Open crown and 13th Grand Slam title overall, with a decisive 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 victory over British upstart Andy Murray on Monday.
The mono-plagued Federer, who looked physically tapped in falling to Novak Djokovic in Australia, who looked like he was waving the white flag in a quick loss to Rafael Nadal at the French Open, who looked thoroughly depressed after Nadal stopped his five-title steak at Wimbledon, and who played confused after James Blake stopped him at the Olympics, was cast into the long shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Out came the Swiss superhero, the one who had stomped every contender thrown at him at Arthur Ashe Stadium with blinding attacks. Like Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Djokovic before him, Murray was no match for Federer’s all-court wizardry or his steely resolve.
“I always knew that if I were to get one Slam under my belt, especially the last one, things weren't looking that bad like everybody was talking about,” Federer said. "I was always positive, and for this reason, I think this is really a great effort from my side, to people saying I was under pressure. I didn't feel I was under pressure to prove myself in trying to win here, but this definitely feels very sweet, and I think it's key for this season.”
Federer came into the tournament looking nowhere near the player who raced through the field last year, but by the time he reached the semifinals, he was ready to fly again. He belted Djokovic with twisting serves, searing forehands and heady net rushes and did much the same to the creative Murray, who never got a chance to organize his Scottish band of rebellious strokes because Federer overwhelmed him from the start.
Even though he came into the match with a 1-2 record against the feisty Scott, Federer was never tentative, going for his first serves, hammering at Murray’s forehand, torching his foe’s second serves and continually coming to net, even though he didn’t have a great day at the net.
He played like a legend on court, where he was now won 34 consecutive matches, smart responding to Murray’s change in tactics and never allowing the 21-year-old to dig in, like he did in upsetting Nadal in the semis.
He broke Murray three times in a six-game run to go ahead 6-2, 2-0 and then, in the only period of the match when the Scot began to zone, stood extremely strong. Serving at 2-2, he fought off three break points with a series of ferocious forehands, and when Murray came off his chair serving at 5-6, the Swiss locked in.
Every short ball that came onto his plate was put away, and there was no over-reliance on defense to win the set. Federer tightened his headband and then strangled Murray, winning the set when he gamely chased down a Murray drop shot and caressed a forehand pass down the line.
The match all but ended there, as there was no way that Murray was going to come back from two sets down against a guy who is one of the greatest frontrunners of all time. Federer raced to a 5-0 lead in the third set, had a brief hiccup and then closed it out with a muscular, backhand cross-court winner and slid to his back in pure elation.
When the two embraced at the net, Murray had a message for him.
“He told me that it was a great tournament for me, and I said that I agreed with everyone that he's had a terrible year,” Murray said with a laugh.
"Making the semis of Australia, the final of the French, the final at Wimbledon, playing one of the best matches of all time, winning a gold medal [in doubles] and, obviously, winning the US Open. I told him that he had a phenomenal year, regardless of what anyone said. I had a lot of respect for him.”
Federer became the first man since Bill Tilden in 1924 to triumph five times in a row at the US Open and the first man in history to win Wimbledon and the US Open on five straight occasions. With 13 Grand Slams, he’s one within Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14, and it’s hard to believe that at age 27, he won’t pass him.
“It's nice to compare five Wimbledons to five US Opens, no doubt. Not many guys -- nobody can do that,” said Federer with a laugh, who spent a good 20 minutes on court after the trophy presentation celebrating with his friends, family and, yes, fans.
“I'm quite proud, obviously, of my achievement. It takes a lot out of a player, always trying to go from one tournament to the next and trying to do your best, but I mean, it's been a tough summer. I think the French Open loss was brutal, but I got over that one pretty easily, played great on the grass and had a really tough loss at Wimbledon, which -- I was proud to be part of such a great match. But, at the same time, it just sort of made me sad, not having won that great epic match. Maybe I was always dreaming about it and not winning it. I was always positive. I lost quite a few matches I should have never lost, and they hurt.
"Now, getting the fifth US Open, it really means a lot to me. I really thank the fans, as well, the crowds. They were great. And losing my No. 1 ranking, that's also what meant a lot to me this season. So to bounce back straightaway after losing the No. 1 ranking, this is the best scenario ever.”
Then there will be little debate as to who the greatest player ever is. During the presentation ceremony, Murray tabbed him as the greatest ever.
“In the big tournaments, he never has early losses," Murray said. "He's been so dominant, in terms of ranking, for the last five years, even when I think Nadal might get very close to winning the same amount of Slams as Federer and Sampras. Even when someone as good as him, who is right behind him, he's still a long way ahead in points, and it's only been until this year that Nadal has caught up to him.
"So I think that sort of five years of dominance, the runs here and at Wimbledon, winning five in a row, and even at the French, he's definitely a better clay-court player than Sampras. He's coming up against definitely the best clay-court player of all time in Nadal. There's a very strong argument for him being the best player."