Category Archives: Roger Federer

19 at SW19

The number “19” refers to the number of Grand Slam singles titles that Roger Federer will amass if he triumphs.

SW19 refers to the exact location of the tournament that the Swiss is attempting to win. Wimbledon is located in SW19. That’s South West 19, its postcode in London.

A coindence, these “19” numbers?

Maybe. Or possibly it’s a sign of what’s to come tonight when Roger Federer meets Marin Cilic for the grandest prize in racket-sport. Will SW19 mean “Swiss Wimbledon 19?”

Often called “GOAT” for “Greatest Of All Time,” the Federer Express has accummulated a record that is peerless. Federer’s professional career started in 1998… guess how many years ago? That’s 19 years ago. And while he lost his first match to Lucas Ker in Gstaad, Switzerland, he has won and won and won. Of the 1,357 singles matches that he has played in 19 years, he has won 1,110 for an outstanding 82 percent winning clip.

In career titles, Federer has 92 trophies, behind the 106 of Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl’s 94 (which he will soon overtake, for sure).

With the most important tournaments (the majors), Federer has been champion five times at the US and Australian Opens, once in the French Open and, at the pristine green grass of SW19, he has seven.

Will he be eighth-time lucky tonight, starting at 9 p.m.? Yes. I don’t want to jinx it (as Jourdan Polotan would warn me) but it’s hard not to see the Swiss maestro lift that Wimbledon trophy, which was first handed to the champion in 1887. (As trivia: the actual trophy is not given to the winner; there is replica, three-fourths the size, that is given as prize.)

I’ve been blessed to have seen RF in person. The first was in 2007 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia when, together with a contingent from Cebu (that included RF diehards Michelle So and Chinggay Utzurrum, Renee Ven Polinar, my brother Charlie and sister-in-law Mitzi, Dr. Ronnie and Stef Medalle, Jess and Jacob Lagman), we watched Roger play Pete Sampras in “Clash of Times.” The year after, my roommate Jasmin and I saw Federer partner with Stan Wawrinka as the Swiss won the Olympic doubles gold medal in Beijing. At the 2015 French Open in Paris, I was in the center court as The Fed won his 3rd round match; he later sat inside the Press Room, seated just a few feet away, answering questions.

Up close and having watched hundreds of his matches on TV, what makes Federer special?

He’s good. Not only on the court but more so, off the court. He is a good father to his twin set of twins, spending most of his free time playing with them. He is good to his wife Mirka and their 17-year-old relationship (they met at the 2000 Sydney Olympics) is as rock solid as RF’s first serve.

Inside and outside; mentally and physically; while wearing Nikes or slippers at home; whether he’s meeting Pope Francis (Federer is Catholic) or smiling at a 9-year-old ballkid… RF is an honest-to-goodness good man.

I quote Nick Torres on his favorite player: Good guys do finish first.

One final word: When I visited the clay courts where Federer first started to play in Basel, Switzerland — he was four years old when he first held a racket; and the name of the club is “Old Boys Tennis Club” — I toured the facility and marveled at the brown clay tennis courts. I gazed at the courts and imagined an athletic young boy toiling for hours, swatting a racket to hone his forehand. Then I went inside the small clubhouse. It was adorned with signed photos of their prodigy. The club opened it’s doors for children to play; it was neat, clean, humble and spotless. Just like tonight’s champion.

Old is the new New

(Photo source: AP)

Roger Federer is 35. Every day for the past three decades, he’s been swinging at that yellow orb, sprinting for dropshots, smashing a towering lob, punishing his 187-lb. body. How is it possible that the Swiss is able to produce that crosscourt backhand winner or strut and glide like MJ on the hardcourt given his grandfather-like age?

It’s called experience. Age is the price of wisdom. Through the years, Federer has been able to pace himself well. He doesn’t play every Tuesday to Monday. He understands his body; he listens to the only God-given, flesh-and-bones machine that he operates, and he doesn’t overplay. Especially the last few years since he’s breached thirty, he chooses to vie only for the big trophies.

His fluid, relaxed and graceful game is to be credited. He glides like a Michael Martinez. Effortless. Smooth. If you were to train an 11-year-old the ABCs of T, look to nobody else but RF. In a 19-year pro career, he also rarely gets injured. And when he does, we know what happens. Last year, while helping his twin girls in the bathroom, he twisted his knee which resulted in him having to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. What did Roger do? He quit tennis for six months. Physically and mentally, he pressed pause. Normally, after such a long layoff, one’s comeback would be rusty. Not RF. At the Australian Open last January, he won Major #18.

That triumph over his tormentor Rafael Nadal, when he was down 1-3 in the fifth set of the final, was the clincher. That win boosted his conviction. Before that victory (when he had not won a Grand Slam title in 4.5 years), his biggest win was being named GQ’s Most Stylish Man for 2016. People said he was decrepit. Some called for his retirement so he could spend more time with this twin set of twins.

Feeling rejuvenated, he was a rabid dog unleashed. The elderly felt young and born again. He has since changed to a larger 97-inch-head Wilson racket. And his backhand! What used to be his only weakness has now transformed into an offensive slingshot. That Rafa-forehand-to-Roger’s-backhand combination used to be painful to watch. Now, it’s become a cannon. He serve-and-volleys, attacks the net, slices; he’s an artist weaving his craft on Nikes. And the Swiss is no longer afraid of the Spaniard. After the Oz Open, RF won Indian Wells, and now, in Miami, lifting a prize he hasn’t carried since 2006 when he defeated — with a sweet twist of irony here — his coach, Ivan Ljubicic. He’s at 19-1 this year and 7-0 against the Top 10.

“I’m moving up in the (rankings) and I just want to stay healthy,” Federer said. “When I’m healthy and feeling good, I can produce tennis like this… It would be great to be No. 1 again, but it’s a long way away.” 

Can RF, who last climbed the summit of Tennisdom in Nov. 2012, ascend to become No.1 again? In military lingo, I say: Roger that.

Swiss dinner with Roger on the menu

Last Saturday night, we were in Switzerland. The elevation stood over 300 meters high. The wind howled and the cold penetrated our skin. Red seats and red napkins adorned the table as we dined on Swiss cuisine: sausages from Switzerland and a fondue set which required us to pierce cutlets of bread that we dipped into melted Swiss cheese.

Ahhh, delicious. We were in the company of Dr. Fritz Strolz and his charming wife, Pearle. The location was their fabulous home in Alta Vista where Cebu’s blinking lights glimmered below, punctuated by the SM Seaside City tower.

Dr. Fritz Strolz is Cebuano. Well, he was born in Switzerland and studied in the same school as Albert Einstein in Zurich but since he married a Cebuana, then he’s one of us. The couple have been long-time friends of my wife’s (Mendez) family.

When Jana, Jasmin and I visited Switzerland two years ago, we stayed in their home in Basel. Dr. Strolz toured us in his Alfa Romeo as we drove hundreds of kilometers to visit Geneva, Lausanne, Mount Rigi and even took day trips to Germany and France (to see the French National Car Museum). One highlight? Uncle Fritz brought us to TC Boys Club, the red clay courts where a young boy learned to hone his volleys.

That’s Roger Federer. The other day, he defeated Stan Wawrinka. Dr. and Mrs. Strolz got to see the same all-Swiss encounter at the Australian Open last January. In a month-long trip Down Under, the couple made sure to watch the two men’s semifinals. It was Nadal-Dimitrov in one half; the other was the all-Swiss duel.

Back to last Saturday night, we were eight guests: Dr. Ronnie Medalle and his two sons, Dr. Stevee and Santi; Dr. Ron Eullaran and his boys, Rayne and Yani; plus me and Jasmin. It was a night that ended past 11:30 that included plenty of jokes. Rayne Eullaran conversed in German. His father, the top rheumatologist Dr. Ronald, made us a laugh the whole evening. Dr. Stevee Medalle showed us a photo of his room in Manila where, hanging above his bed, was a Swiss flag.

We learned plenty about Switzerland: their population of 8.5 million; the nurses who earn P300,000/month; the requirement for each home to build a bunker. How timely for this weekend, we thought, dining on Swiss food (including Swiss ice cream dessert) with our Swiss hosts, as the Swiss lord over tennis. Said Dr. Strolz in a message yesterday: “Pearle was never so proud to be a Swiss. We are the strongest tennis nation in the world at the moment!”

Roger the Brave

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(Credit: Rex Features)

Down 3-1 in the fifth after emerging from the dugout for a medical timeout and with Rafael Nadal looping that high-bouncing topspin, who’d have predicted that Roger Federer would break Rafa’s serve twice, slam that backhand crosscourt for winners and win five straight games to hoist No. 18?

“I told myself to play free,” Roger said. “Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here.”

Roger the Brave. Standing inside the baseline and not waiting for Rafa’s spin-loaded shots to bounce roof high, Roger pounced for half-volley unreturnables, scoring 73 winners to Rafa’s 35 and pounding 20 aces to Nadal’s four.

“He put a lot of balls in, and taking a lot of risks,” Rafa said. “And taking the ball very early, playing very fast.”

The first four sets were unexciting. Like appetizers to the entree or prelimaries to the main bout, they were designed to whet our appetite for what would be one of the most thrilling endings in tennis history.

In the final set of the whole Oz Open, Roger had plenty of chances early but failed. “I could have left disappointed there and accepted that fact,” Roger said. “I kept on fighting. I kept on believing, like I did all match long today, that there was a possibility that I could win this.”

Positive. Hungry. Inspired. At the brink of losing a painful one to his nemesis, Roger found a way. As Rafa emerged from the 4th set all-confident, the Spaniard looked destined for another one of those endings we’ve seen before. “Oh, no, not again!” we all screamed. But Roger, like the Roger of 10 years past, or even better, found a way.

Rafa did not lose. Roger won.

Never mind his high-risk brand of tennis where his flat balls would clear the net by an inch, he went for it. “Bahala na,” if we were to say it. If I lose, I’ll lose dying, bloodied, red like my Swiss flag. But if I win…

And win he did. For RF fans, the script couldn’t have been written any better. Against Nadal. Down in the 5th. Not winning a Grand Slam since 2012. Six months out injured. Aged 35, same as the ladies’ winner. Rod Laver presenting the trophy inside his home. Lights out, spotlights blazing, Mirka smiling. An 18th major, tying him with golf’s Jack Nicklaus.

“I would have said a great event would be quarters,” Roger said. “Fourth round would be nice.”

God is good. God is good to those who are good. Last Sunday night, Roger was too good.

Maestro or Matador? We, the tennis fans, win

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Few rivalries in sport can rival the one of Federer-Nadal. Swiss vs. Spaniard. Single-handed backhand utilizing the right arm against a two-fisted lefty. GQ’s “Most Stylish Man of 2016” vs. the underwear model of Tommy Hilfiger. Wimbledon grass maestro vs. French Open clay-courter.

But as contrasting as their playing styles are, you cannot find two future Hall of Famers (with a combined 31 majors) who are more humble, genuine and courteous — the perfect role models off and on the court in this era of trash-talking Trump and Duterte. (Or Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.)

Who will win tonight? Ha-ha. It’s like asking me if I prefer biking or running, or tennis over a steak dinner. Crazy comparison, I know, but that’s the offering in tonight’s menu.

Tennis is like boxing. It’s mano-a-mano. But what makes a five-hour marathon played inside that rectangle even more challenging is this: you’re alone. Split in between by a 3-foot-tall net while swatting that bouncing yellow ball, there’s nothing else that will separate Roger and Rafa.

Nobody expected this. Not even these two legends who’ll trade 19-shot blows, slice drop volleys, and pump fists while respectfully staring the other. Tonight, blood in the form of sweat will flood Rod Laver Arena. Passing shots will wow the Aussies as 205-kph aces will fly; Roger fans will paint their faces red while Rafa’s followers will hoist bandera Española.

In this era of boring backhands by Murray and Djokovic, an endless pingpong of counterpunches, who’d have expected the 17th and 9th seeds to meet? Destiny.

For Roger, expect him to cry if he wins No. 18; nobody is more gifted than RF (even his baby-making skills are incomparable: he has two sets of twins, girls then boys, with wife Mirka).

For Rafa, tired after a five-hour slugfest with Dimitrov and unfairly given only 39 hours of rest compared to Fed’s three days, it’s all about his heart. No one gives 1,001 percent, screams louder, punishes his body more than the Mallorcan. Roger fans hate Rafa but they honor his doggedness and grit. But as ferocious and Spanish bullfighter-like as he is, Rafa is polite and gracious.

In defeat or in triumph, he and Roger exhibit this outstanding humility — not just as athletes but as human beings. Consider ourselves blessed. This is it. I’m doubtful if this boxing slugfest — their 35th fight — will ever happen again. Go, Roger! Vamos!

A Swiss watches the Swiss

Dr. Fritz Strolz was born in Switzerland and graduated in ETH Zurich — the same university where Albert Einstein studied. When we visited two summers ago, Uncle Fritz drove his trusted Alfa Romeo and toured us. We inspected the artifacts inside the IOC Museum in Lausanne and climbed Mt. Rigi, gazing at the Swiss Alps. Dr. Strolz also brought us to the Tennis Club Old Boys — historic because a young kid learned to hit forehands there. That child was Roger Federer.

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With Dr. Fritz Strolz at the IOC Museum

Dr. Strolz and his beautiful wife Pearle are in Australia this week and he sent me this message two days ago: “We are headed to the Rod Laver Arena to watch the Maestro against Stanimal! The Swiss fans have the torture of choice. We are in a dilemma. To whom do the hearts fly? Roger, the biggest player in the tennis circus, who inspired the world with his comeback? Or Stan, the tireless fighter, who also gave us a lot of great sport hours?”

The Strolz couple had good seats. They sat in Row 20 with each ticket priced at Aus$296 (P11,250). “The tournament is world-class,” he said. “Great stadiums, excellent infrastructure, helpful and friendly staff.” That day — Jan. 26 — was special not only for Switzerland but also because it was Australia Day.

“For us, it was a crazy game,” Dr. Strolz said. “There were all ingredients for a tennis fire. Stan or Roger, Roger or Stan? The answer kept waiting long. As Roger fans, we trembled. Stan had advantages in the 5th set before he gave Roger the decisive break. Roger was supported loudly during the whole game.”

The Federer vs. Wawrinka battle was a seesaw fight. Roger won the first two sets. Stan took the next two and gained the momentum. In the decider, Stan had two break points that could have sealed the match. He missed those and lost an error-prone service game to hand his doubles partner (Jasmin and I watched them win the Olympic gold in Beijing) and Davis Cup teammate the victory.

Among the 18,644 tennis fans who watched were plenty of Swiss. “There were spectators who painted their faces with the Swiss flag,” Dr. Strolz said. “All RF fan articles were sold out.”

Why, I asked the man who lives in the same city (Basel), is Roger so loved and respected?

“It is certainly his record,” Dr. Strolz said. “On the other side, his style: elegant, stylish and light-footed. In addition, his restraint and humility, on and off the court. He always sports good behavior.”

Can the 17th seed with 17 majors win in ’17?

Roger Federer has not lifted a Grand Slam trophy since Wimbledon 2012. Aged 35 in a sport where you start playing at five, the almost-never-injured Roger succumbed to knee injury (and surgery) last year. He was out for six months. This, despite a previous record where he appeared in 65 consecutive majors.

This 2017, the 17-major titlist is the lowly 17th seed. Can he or his compatriot Rafael Nadal — both a combined age of 65 — triumph in Melbourne? Do the old dogs still have the dog-fight to clash in the finals? I hope. I wish.

Rafa beat Sasha Zverez last Saturday in five sets. Same with Roger. Against Kei Nishikori, RF finished with 24 aces and 83 winners.

“The last shot, when it didn’t come back, it was an enormous joy,” Roger said, after an exhausting 3 hours and 24 minutes. “I think I’m playing better and better. I felt great in the fifth (set). Great energy.”

How about those Zverev brothers? The younger German (Sascha, only 19) pushed Nadal to nearly fall down in Down Under. The older one (Misha, 29) will play Federer in today’s quarterfinals.

Tennis fan or not, if you have cable TV, watch the Oz Open finale this week. Or, with internet connection, go to YouTube and choose from a myriad of 15-minute summarized contests.

NICK TORRES. A former Class A netter whom I exchanged volleys with at the defunct Cebu Tennis Club, Mr. Torres sent me this message last Sunday:

“When I saw Aleksandr (for the first time) beat RF last month, I was so impressed by his maturity and demeanor that I told my friends that he was a sure bet for top 10. I only saw his elder bro today. I was saddened that Mischa didn’t come into his full potential earlier. Unbelievable how he dismantled one of the best returners and defensive specialists of the game with the almost-extinct serve and volley game. Best of all, if you appreciate humility, grace, and magnanimity in victory, ya gotta see his match with Murray.”

Then, yesterday morning, this SMS from him: “Now that he has the best chance in a very long time to win another slam, my love for RF got the better of me. I’m rooting for him again. Zverev or no Zverev! A 17th seed winning a Slam? Only one man could do that. The G.O.A.T.!”

Sporty weekend

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What a weekend for international sports! Brazil hosted four sets of World Cup quarterfinal games. Germany and Brazil are through. Early this morning, it’s possible that the Dutch and Argentinians advanced. What a final four. Neymar? That’s sad. I watched the replay of the knee kick to his back by Juan Zuniga and it looked intentional. Who flies on air with a knee bent straight to someone’s back? Neymar’s the best player and he was surely a marked man. Now, he’s out. Same with Thiago Silva. Too bad for the hosts. This might become a Germany-Argentina final next Sunday.

UFC 175: two main fights are scheduled and Chris Weidman and Ronda Rousey, the reigning champs, are expected to be triumphant.

It’s the Wimbledon final! Last night, Eugenie Bouchard battled Petra Kvitova. I’m biased. And so, if you’ve been following the green grass games, are you: I hope the Canadian 20-year-old won the final point. Isn’t she pretty? Very.

Tonight is the gentlemen’s final as two familiar foes meet. Like Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So, I hope Roger wins. And doesn’t he always win when Rafael Nadal loses early in the tournament? If you recall the French Open in 2009, Rafa lost early and Roger zoomed to claim the trophy. At Wimbledon, the two were slated to meet in the semis but Rafa was slain by the giant slayer Nick Kyrgios.

Roger will win because Wimbledon is his property. He’s won at the All-England Club seven times. If he wins tonight — the final is at 9 p.m., Phil. time — he will have amassed 18 major titles, tying him with Jack Nicklaus. Speaking of the American golf legend, he sat beside Rod Laver last Friday to watch the tennis festivities.

Federer has been playing superb tennis the past two weeks. And, in the only time the two met on grass, the Swiss beat the Serb — in the semis two years ago on Centre Court.

“Against Federer,” said Novak Djokovic, “the key will be to try not to allow him to dictate too much because he likes to be very aggressive.”

Roger’s reply? The same thing: “It’s really important for me to stay aggressive against him… Novak can hurt you down the line or cross-court on both sides. His forehand, his serve, his movement clearly is what stands out the most at the moment. He’s really been able to improve that and make it rock solid.”

What I like about Roger is that he’s attacking the net more. A gifted volleyer, this had often been the complaint against him in the past. Why doesn’t he move forward to finish the points up close? Thanks to his coach — one of history’s best volleyers, Stefan Edberg — the Swiss Maestro has been attacking. This will be a scintillating finale.

ENGLAND is busy this weekend because apart from tennis, it also hosts cycling and motor-racing. The Tour de France will have its first race not in France but in Yorkshire. The three-week-long Le Tour will include 21 stages and 2,277 miles of pedaling before the July 27 finish in Paris. Among the nearly 200 estimated riders, one man is expected to win. He’s a Brit and he’s the defending champ: Chris Froome.

Tennis and Formula One racing fans might probably be switching channels tonight as Silverstone hosts the Santander British Grand Prix. It’s the Golden Anniversary of Grand Prix racing in Silverstone. Watch for an Englishman with the initials LH to win the 50th edition.

London calling! It’s Nadal v. Djokovic for No. 1

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If you follow the ATP Tour of men’s tennis, then you’ll know that this week is important. The venue is England. The players number only eight. It’s the season-ending finale called the ATP World Tour Finals. Many refer to this as the “fifth Grand Slam of tennis” that’s played indoors. It’s being held at the 02 Arena in London — one of the world’s busiest where concerts rock audiences and sporting events thrill spectators.

By-invitation-only, the world’s top eight are joining. Minus hometown boy Andy Murray, who’s recovering from back surgery, the likes of Wawrinka, Gasquet, Ferrer and Berdych join the popular names of Del Potro, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.

Instead of a knock-out format like in all others (you lose one and you’re out), this week it’s round-robin play. Two groups of four are divided; the top two of each bracket advance to the semifinals.

One million six hundred thousand dollars awaits the undefeated champion. And, for the non-winners, even if you lose every single match, you’re still richer, just by showing up, by $120,000. Not bad.

The sub-plot of this mega-event is the battle for the title, “2013 World Tennis Champion.” Will it be Rafa or Novak? Last night at 10 p.m. (Phil. time), Rafa played Stan Wawrinka. If the Spaniard won, he would have clinched the year-end No. 1 spot. If he lost, Novak still has a chance.

images-1For Roger Federer fans, it’s not game-over yet for the 32-year-old Dubai resident. Though he’s amassed nearly $80 million in prize money and owns most of tennis’ records (17 slams and 302 weeks as No. 1), he’s only been victorious in one tournament this entire 2013 (Halle, on grass, in June). This is embarrassing for The Great One who’s garnered 77 total tournament career wins. Can he win one more Grand Slam title? I’m unsure. His best prospect is Wimbledon, where he’s won seven, but basing on his result this year (he crashed out in the second round), it doesn’t look good for RF.

What’s working for Federer is his good health. Unlike the injury-plagued (and five years younger) Nadal, the Swiss has hardly ever been injured. He stretches. He doesn’t grunt and grind and exert as much physically as Rafa. And as long as the cute twin girls, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, don’t pester their dad too much, Roger is expected to play for three or more Novembers.

With Nadal, what a comeback year. Out for seven months under rehabilitation, his rejuvenated and second-hand/good-as-new body wins 10 tournaments this 2013, including the French Open (which he forever owns) and the U.S. Open. Can he add the only missing piece in his storied life story, the ATP World Tour Finals, which he’s never won before?

406068Xisca Perello with Rafa

“Last year was a big miss for me,” Nadal said. “Even if I was not able to play my best a lot of times here, I really have great feelings every time I have the chance to play in this stadium.”

Will he emerge as champion this Sunday? We’ll see. But the way Djokovic has been playing of late — winning Beijing, Shanghai and Paris; 18 undefeated matches so far — I’m rooting for (though I’ve never been a huge fan of) the Serb.

On the topic of indoor tennis, I like it. If you watched the Paris Indoors last week, you’ll see the difference. Lights are dimmed. Loud music pumps the hearts of the fans. Smoke machines fumigate harmless excitement. Laser lights dance as the players prance. Unlike the sunny/sweaty drip of the outdoors, indoor tennis is cool, concert-like, captivating.

urlSpeaking of ticket prices, I checked the website and they range from P1,600 to P4,800. In the finals, it shoots up to P7,000 — but they’re sold out. That’s in London.

To us here in Cebu, the best thing is called HD TV. That’s High Definition. If you’re subsribed to it (mine’s on SkyCable; channel 702), then I need not explain further. As the saying goes, “It’s best seen, not explained.” If you love sports and can spend a little bit more on home entertainment, go HD.

Rafa, injured again? Roger on that!

He is a graceful ice skater wearing tennis shoes and wielding a racket. He glides. He floats. He’s effortless and exquisite — hovering and dancing on court.

Twice, I had the chance to watch Roger Federer play. The first, in Kuala Lumpur, was an exhibition contest against Pete Sampras. That weekend in KL with our Cebu contingent (Chinggay Utzurrum, Michelle So, my brother Charlie and his wife Mitzi, Rene Ven Polinar, Dr. Ronnie Medalle and his wife Steph) was extra memorable because I joined a by-invitation-only gathering with Roger and Pete. (In the quick photo-op, I shook hands and had a photo with Pete — it should have been with the Swiss!)

Then, in Beijing four years ago, Jasmin and I watched several of Roger’s forehands. One was at ringside when he dismissed of Dmitry Tursunov as LeBron James sat in attendance. Another was his Olympic gold medal doubles win.

My observations of the 17-Grand Slam winner? RF makes tennis look so easy. And tennis isn’t child’s play. There’s topspin, underspin, sidespin and the American twist. There’s a delicate drop volley, a flying overhead smash, an inside-out forehand.

Roger is so gifted that, if God were to create just one magical netter, he’d be the 31-year-old Basel-born father of twins who just won Cincinnati trophy No. 5.

Of all the success stories surrounding Roger, you know what I find most phenomenal? That he’s hardly gotten injured.

Tennis is an injury-prone game. It’s not physical like football or basketball and there’s no wrestling like the UFC. But, you’re all alone in tennis. You sprint miles, zigzag, swing, jump, slide. Your wrist can snap, knee can twist, ankle can roll. (Dr. Tony San Juan operated on my shoulder over a year ago.)

Roger, who has amassed 76 career titles and won 862 of his 1055 matches (an 81 % winning clip), has almost never gotten injured. Can you believe that?

In contrast, Rafael Nadal is suffering the opposite. Five years younger, Nadal’s succumbed to multiple injuries.

His current trauma — Hoffa’s Syndrome or the Fat Pad Impingement — is a knee-related injury that can be extremely painful. Because of this, Nadal did not defend his Olympic gold and he’ll skip the US Open, which begins this Monday. Painful? Yes, figuratively and literally.

Why this sad Rafa predicament while Roger doesn’t miss a single day at the office? I also watched Nadal in person twice and, while sitting on my chair, I was exhausted watching his type of physical, brutal and merciless play.

“Rog is uncomplicated and smooth while Raf is laborious and excruciating,” I wrote in an article last Sept. 2009. “The former results to less injuries; the latter, well, eight weeks off the Tour… With Rafa, you can see the muscles flexing; he’d jump, scramble, sprint, flick his wrist like it would snap. He’s too physical—and too likely to get injured. Roger is a ballerina on rubber shoes. He doesn’t run, he skates. Glides. He hovers. Waltzing around the tennis rectangle, he skims. Sails. He tiptoes. The result? His body’s not battered.”

Longevity? We know the winner.

CONGRATS. The past weekend was a triumphant one for us. It was my brother Charlie’s birthday. My mom, Allen, climbed three bridges (or was it four because you traverse up Cansaga Bridge twice?) in the 7th University Run and finished the grueling 25K with her trademark smile.

Plus… the day that I awaited finally arrived: my 13-year-old daughter Jana beat me in tennis. The score? She won the first set, 7-6. In the second, she led 5-1 before I won the next five games to win 7-5. In the third set, she raced to another 5-1 lead before I clawed back to 5-4. Then, with a handful of match points, she served a “down-the-T” ace to beat her dad, 6-4.

Yesterday was the most satisfying loss I’ve ever had.

At Wimbledon, will Andy be the Great Briton?

In tennis, the past nine Grand Slam men’s singles champions were either Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal. Not today. Not in Wimbledon. Not when, at 9 P.M. tonight (Phil. time) and over Star Sports, we have the chance to witness a historic and different ending.

Roger or Andy? Simple question, right? Yes. But the answers are complex. As a tennis observer the past 26 years, it’s obvious that Roger has the edge. He’s smiled and carried that golden trophy six times on Centre Court. (The last non-Rafa/Novak major final? The 2010 Australian Open between Roger and Andy—and we know who won that in straight sets.)

And so, while my head proclaims a Swiss winner, my hope is otherwise. Go, Great Britain! It’s been 76 loooooooong years since a British male player won at home. Fred Perry—whose name is a major clothing brand—was that last Briton. Can Andy break the spell? Do a Harry Potter-like wizardry act using the racquet as his sword to slay the giant? Or, since my daughter Jana thinks Andy looks like the Spiderman lead actor, Andrew Garfield, maybe he can weave his magic web to entrap RF? I hope so.

“The roof is going to blow off this thing if Murray wins on Sunday,” said doubles great Mark Woodforde. London, readying to host the Olympics in 19 days, will celebrate with July 4-like fireworks if Andy wins. He’ll be venerated—like Queen Elizabeth II was during the Diamond Jubilee. (Royalty, in fact, will be in attendance as Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has confirmed her attendance; the Queen herself might watch!)

Murray wants to emulate one person today. “LeBron James would be a good example,” said Murray. “He came very close to winning quite a lot of times. Him winning this year I’m sure was massive… I would say for me I guess it’s a similar situation. I’ve been close a lot of times and not quite made it.”

Three times, Murray has reached a Grand Slam final. Thrice, he’s lost. Will this be fourth-time-lucky? Ivan Lendl hopes so. Murray’s coach (and an 8-time major winner) has never won Wimbledon. Can you imagine the scream of the stoic Lendl if his student wins? “It’s a great challenge, one where I’m probably not expected to win the match, but one that, you know, if I play well, I’m capable of winning,” Murray said. “But, yeah, if you look at his record here over the past 10 years or so, it’s incredible. So the pressure that I would be feeling if it was against somebody else, I guess it would be different. But there will be less on me on Sunday, you know, because of who he is.”

FEDERER. “He,” of course, is the greatest ever: Roger F. Here’s an interesting fact: head-to-head, Andy leads Roger, 8-7. This should give the Scot extra confidence.

But for Roger, here’s added motivation: If he wins, he’ll pocket Major Title No. 17, plus, he’ll step up two notches in the ATP ladder and become world No. 1—tying Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks (at the top spot) and seven Wimby victories.

Sampras? He’s picking his buddy, saying, “I’ve always felt Roger’s the sort of guy that, if I’m going to see my records broken, I’d hope that it’s someone like him. I like his game. I like what he’s about. Just a very classy player. And we’re friends. Maybe makes it a little bit easier that it’s someone I genuinely like and consider a friend.”

(Interesting note: Who will British Honorary Consul Moya Jackson cheer for tonight? A lifelong Roger fan, will she switch sides to clap for UK to win?)

Back to the semifinals when Roger beat Novak, what a masterful performance. If you’re a Roger fan, you must be grinning and liking his chances. He was immaculate. His aces. His forehand was lethal.

To me, the two key points tonight are these: If Roger’s offensive weapons are precise and on-target, he’ll win. That’s how he won six W. titles. Andy? He can’t be a counter-puncher forever. He has to attack. You can’t just wait for Roger to dictate the game.

As I told today’s birthday celebrant Macky Michael, this Andy-Roger final is the dream Wimbledon finale. Watch it tonight at 9!

King of Clay beats the King of Tennis

I’ve never been to Monte Carlo. But my wife Jasmin and her whole Mendez family did, back in 1993. Says Jasmin: “Monaco is one of the most picturesque locations in the world. You’re standing up on a hill, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, gazing at multi-million dollar yachts and Lamborghinis. It’s Europe’s rich-and-famous playground.”

One man who calls Monte Carlo his playground stands 6-foot-1, weighs 188 lbs. and is tennis’ version of The Gladiator: Rafael Nadal.

Isn’t he the world’s happiest person today? He is. After losing to Novak Djokovic the last seven times, all finals, he won last Sunday on the red clay of Monte Carlo, 6-3, 6-1. Vamos, Rafa!

“Nobody beats Rafa eight times in a row!” as if he was to scream to the world. Now, Frank Malilong, the lefty lawyer, can exhale a huge sigh of relief. His idol won. Same with Manny Sainz, Bob Lozada, Noy and Amale Jopson, Fabby Borromeo, Ernie Delco and millions of other Rafa-natics!

“Monte Carlo is the most beautiful Masters 1000 tournament for me,” Nadal said. “To start the clay-court season winning here is an amazing feeling. To beat Novak in a final after losing a few is an important result for me. It was important to break this series and to do it here – it’s perfect.”

Rafa’s eighth victory in one event is not only amazing—it’s outrageous. It’s not fantastic; it’s irrational. Monte Carlo is a Masters 1000 tournament—one of Earth’s biggest in tennis. Starting 2005, he’s won every single match.

“To have eight victories, you must be lucky, you have to have no injuries, perfect conditions for eight years in a row. That’s the first thing,” said Nadal. “And you have to be playing almost perfect to win eight titles in a row, especially in a Masters. The best in the world always play – you have to win against the best.”

In all these eight years—take a deep breath on this ludicrous statistic—Nadal has lost only six sets. He lost zero sets this 2012. And won $603,000 to increase his career total to $48 million. No, our ‘Man… Pac is still richer, but $48M translates to over P2 billion pesos. Wow. And this excludes Nike’s dollar payments.

On the significance of last weekend, Peter Bodo, my favorite tennis scribe, wrote this: “This is also a record 20th Masters title for Nadal, and perhaps most significantly if not most glamorously, his first tournament win of any kind in 10 months—since he won the French Open in early June last year…

“This overwhelming win may has enabled Nadal to hit that reset button for which he’s been groping for so long now, going all the way back nearly a full year to Madrid, where Djokovic pulled a nasty surprise on the then-No. 1. He pummeled him on clay, a feat that by then many had consigned to the realm of the impossible.”

More? Here’s one more: April is Rafa’s lucky month. On this month, he’s won 72 straight matches on clay. King of Clay? Yes. But, also: King of April.

Still, the King of Tennis isn’t him. It’s still the Serbian 6-foot-2 (Novak) who leads the world rankings with 13,270 points. Rafa only has 9,715 while R. Federer trails with 8,880. At No. 4, A. Murray lurks with 7,860.

I’ve had the chance, twice, to watch Mr. Nadal in person. The first was in 2007 when, together with Dr. Ronald Anthony Medalle and his beauteous wife Stephanie, I sat with Jasmin inside the Malawati Stadium in Kualu Lumpur, Malaysia. Rafa played an exhibition match against Richard Gasquet. That was a most memorable trip (two days after, it was Sampras-Federer) that included a bus ride from KL to Singapore.

Jasmin and I again saw Rafa during the Olympics. We witnessed him fall to the Beijing floor after championship point to claim an Olympic gold medal.

Why is this fierce, Gladiator-like warrior so likable? Because he’s both: humble and soft-spoken with the killer instincts of a Navy Seal. As buotan as he is during interviews and off-court, he has the complete opposite, I-will-do-everything-to-beat-you attitude when he’s inside that tennis rectangle. I can’t wait for May 17, the French Open.

Fantastic Four clash at the Australian Open

The last time Mr. Federer met Mr. Nadal in Melbourne was in 2009. “God, it’s killing me,” Federer said after losing 9-7 in the fifth set Final, tears of pain rolling down his chiseled cheeks.

Tonight, R & R square off again. Few rivalries, of any game or form of entertainment, have rivaled the one between the Spaniard and the Swiss. Tonight, I think Roger will win. Much as the record speaks otherwise (it’s 17-9, in favor of Nadal), the Federer Express has been in full-throttle, steamrolling past del Potro (4, 3 and 2) and everybody else who faces him across the Australian net.

The Melbourne courts are fast, speedier than the red-clay favored by Nadal. This quick-bounce court will be an ace for Roger’s 133-mph pinpoint serves.

But this is the intriguing part of the R & R combat. Mentally, it seems as if Rafa owns Roger. Rafa’s forehand to Roger’s backhand—that’s one of the worst one-two punches that overwhelms Roger. Also, if Roger loses, that means Rafa has won twice as many matches, head-to-head (18 vs. 9). How can RF lay claim to the “I’m The Greatest” sovereignty title when Rafa clobbers him?

Still, that’s all history. Tonight will be historic. Roger in 4.

But, wait. Lest we think that tonight’s the finale, it’s only half of it. The main Gladiator-like ending is still this Sunday. Looming at the opposite end?

Djokovic or Murray. Among these Fantastic Four characters, Roger has won 16 majors, Rafa owns 10 and Novak has four, including three from 2011. Andy The Scot? He has none. Luoya sad uy. That’s why I’m cheering for him. (He beat Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori, who was supposed to come to Cebu in last year’s Davis Cup tie.) And, though a boring and lifeless counterpuncher, I hope by week’s end Murray will dye his hair red and wear a tattoo, “The 2012 Wizard of Oz.”

Among the women, who doesn’t like Maria Sharapova? I know Michael Jerome Limpag LOVES her. Here’s looking ahead to a Kim Clijsters vs. Maria final on Saturday.

No joke, 2011 is the ‘Year of the Djoker’

If you follow men’s tennis, you usually belong to either of two factions: Team Federer or Camp Nadal. Well, not this 2011. This year was solely dominated by Novak Djokovic.

He won 92 percent of all matches played (70 of 76). He earned a record-breaking $12.6 million in prize money. Out of the four Grand Slam trophies, he lifted three: Wimbledon and the Opens in America and Australia. In the first half of 2011, he was unbeaten in 43 consecutive matches.

And, in the best statistic that I researched, against Rafa and Roger, he was 10-1. Against the Spaniard, he won six of six. Of R & R, Djokovic said: “They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years. They have won most of the majors we are playing. So sometimes it did feel a little bit frustrating when you kind of get to the latter stages of a Grand Slam. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters the most.”

What change paved the way for the 24-year-old Novak to annihilate his two rivals and emerge as No.1? His mind.

“It’s a process of learning, a process of developing and improving as a tennis player and just finding the way to mentally overcome those pressures you have,” he said. “I always believed that I had the quality to beat those two guys.”

Novak is scary because he has no fear of the top players. In the most memorable shot of the season, he was down two match points to Roger Federer at the U.S. Open and, instead of playing if safe, he drilled one forehand return-of-serve for a smashing winner. He beat the Swiss. He beat the Spaniard. He won New York.

“I had an unbelievable year,” said Novak. “Nothing can really ruin that. I will always remember this year as the best of my life.”

As to the question whether he can repeat one of the greatest years in tennis history, he says: “This year’s success gives me a reason to believe that I can win again. Why not? I think it doesn’t make any sense to be anything other than optimistic. I need to believe in my qualities and my abilities and I need to believe that I can repeat the success.” That’s the mentality of a champ.

The experts, what do they say? Bruce Jenkins of Sports Illustrated: “I can’t see him repeating such a surreal winning percentage, but it’s entirely possible that he could win three majors again.

Jon Wortheim, my favorite tennis writer, comments: “Barring injury, which, granted is no small conditional — there’s little to suggest he can’t sustain this level of excellence. His game translates to all surfaces. If one component of his game fails him, he has plenty of other weapons at his disposal. His fitness, once so shaky, has, with great abruptness, become an asset. He’s younger than the players who pose the biggest threat and, right now anyway, he is swelling with confidence.”

ANDY. Looking ahead to 2012, I’d like to see Andy Murray finally win a major. A Grand Slam runner-up three times, it’s hard to see him not winning that major trophy. The perfect place for him to triumph? Wimbledon. Then, months after, with the Olympics still to be played at Wimbledon, he repeats as the Olympic gold medalist. If his fellow Scot Rory McIlroy can do it for golf, why can’t he follow with tennis?

RAFA? While losing six of six to Novak (all in the finals, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) were painful, the medicine that erased the hurt was winning the Davis Cup for Spain a few weeks back.

ROGER. Already 30 years old, he had the best finish this year, winning three straight indoor events, including a 6-3, 6-0 embarrassment of Rafa in London. Not bad for the daddy of twins Myla Rose and Charlene Riva.

‘Federer’s Best Shot’

Here’s a comprehensive and entertaining piece by Tom Perrotta…

Roger Federer shouldn’t look this good. He has played 959 professional matches in his career, appeared in 46 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and spent more than a decade criss-crossing time zones while collecting a record 16 major singles titles and more than $60 million in prize money. Married and the father of twin 22-month-old girls, Mr. Federer brings his family—jet lag, runny noses and all—on the road with him from Melbourne to Paris to London to New York, and many places in between.

All of this for a man who in August will turn 30, the beginning of the twilight years in modern competitive tennis.

Yet as the 125th edition of Wimbledon is set to begin next week, Mr. Federer is fresh, fit, confident and, remarkably, on the upswing after a stellar performance at the French Open, where he ended 24-year-old Novak Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak and pushed Rafael Nadal, age 25 and perhaps the best clay court player in history, to four sets in the final…

Read more of Tom Perrotta’s article here.

10 points on Rafa’s 10th major

Roger Federer should have won that first set. He led 5-2. He owned a set point. But, after missing a drop-shot by millimeters, he lost the next five games. Had Roger won that set, we never know…

But now we know. We know that, after the first 63 minutes were his, Rafael Nadal was invincible. He started jumping, lunging, fist-pumping. Vamos! reverberated throughout Stade Roland Garros.

Head-to-head, Rafa has won 17 of the 25 occasions that he and Roger have played. At the French Open, the record is 5-0 (including four in the Finals). On clay, it’s 11-2; hard-court, 4-all; on grass, Roger leads 2-1. And the most telling of all statistics: in Grand Slam finals, Rafa owns a 6-2 winning edge.

(AP/Lionel Cironneau)

It’s obvious that, between the two, Nadal is better. So why, you ask, is Federer universally proclaimed as The Best Ever? All this chatter, of course, is pointless. RF fans will forever defend their man; so will RN devotees. Rafa himself addressed this issue, saying, “When you talk about these statistics, when you try and make these comparisons, really it’s not very interesting to me. I’m very happy with what I have, with who I am. I’m not the best player in the history of tennis. I think I’m among the best. That’s true. That’s enough for me.” Roger offers his own analysis: “He plays better against the better ones, and that’s what he showed today. He’s a great champion, on clay especially.”

What did we witness last Sunday? I cite 10 thoughts after observing the 10th Slam victory…

One, the Roger v. Rafa Rivalry is one of sport’s most compelling. No other one-two contest (Borg-McEnroe, Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus) can compare. The contrast in personalities. The styles and spins of play. The emotions: cool vs. combative. These are incomparable. And a message to all tennis fans that, should one have the resources, they ought to watch them play “live” before they retire.

Two, on court, if it’s Rafa’s forehand against Roger’s backhand, the outcome is as obvious as Pacquiao-Marquez III. The lefty wins. Roger has to find a way to avoid such ping-pong, cross-court exchanges.

Three, the tenacity of the Spaniard is unfathomable. His doggedness, resolve, and fortitude — more than his whipping forehand topspin or 100-meter-dash speed — gifts him victory. Tennis is mental. He who grits his teeth harder and wants it more pockets the $1.7 million prize money.

Four, defense wins the game. Watch the NBA. Listen to Coach Yayoy Alcoseba and to LeBron James & Co. “Defense is the key to success,” they’ll voice out in unison. Same with tennis. Nadal’s retrieval prowess — his ability to return a shot that, to anybody else on the ATP Tour, would have been a point lost — makes him greater than Bjorn Borg on clay.

Five, Roger is only 29. Which means he’s not 30 – a “psychological barrier” age when tennis pros (who’ve played since six years old) are on decline.

Six, the question is: Can Rafa, now with 10 majors, surpass Roger’s 16? At 25 years old, he’s five years younger. That’s about 20 Grand Slam title opportunities. He can if…

Seven… his body doesn’t complain. No body is subjected to more excruciating torture than Rafa’s 188-lb. frame. He slides, stretches, smashes, swings, sprints… suffers. Injury can derail his pursuit more than Federer Express.

Eight, Rafa can win despite “playing ugly.” Rafa almost lost. In the first round against John Isner, he was down two sets to one. Had he been defeated, that would have ranked as the greatest upset of all time. But he kept afloat. He survived. “The real Rafa is both the Rafa who wins and the Rafa who plays well, and the Rafa who suffers and doesn’t play that well,” said Nadal. “You have to face this situation.”

Nine, had Rafa faced Novak in the finals, he’d have lost. I think so. Roger’s backhand is his weakness. Not Novak. His two-handed shot causes grief to Rafa. That’s what caused defeat to the Mallorcan in the last four Final meetings they had.

Ten, I can’t wait for Wimbledon…..

Love Triangle: Roger spurns Novak for Rafa

A funny thing happened in this 2011 French Open. Everybody forgot about Roger Federer. All the focus was on Mr. Djokovic. All the talk was on Rafa’s quest for a sixth trophy. Who’s Roger? Is he still alive? In this planet? Playing tennis? Well, he happens to be the only living (and, yes, non-living) male person to have won 16 Grand Slam singles titles. He won on the Parisian red clay in 2009. He won an Olympic doubles gold medal in 2010. He is, almost unanimously, the best hairy, male player who’s gripped a tennis racket.

And, during the past two weeks in Paris, like a stealth bomber that’s hidden from the radar view, he was silent, unseen, moving, targeting, and now, all of a sudden, he’s out in the open, in the Finals, and within sight of the prize.

Less pressure. Compared to Rafa and Novak, the Swiss had it easier. He’s relegated to a world ranking of # 3. That’s a lowly position that RF had not stooped down to since, when, 2002? Yet, all this is working for the good. For Roger’s good. Because elite, world’s-best athletes need an extra boost of motivation to allow them to climb beyond Mount Everest’s peak – and this is it for Roger.

Neglected, ignored and, yes, disregarded as a 30-year-old (in August 8) has-been former-superstar whose star has faded, this abandonment Roger is using to spark himself.

COME ON!!!!!!! I’ve never, in over eight years of observation, seen him pump his fist and shout “Come On!” as many times as now. He’s feeding off this omission by the media — myself included — and using it to power his smash. You think I’m gone? I’ll prove you people wrong! he’s mentally saying.

Did you see his annihilation of Novak? He served 18 aces. He fired his forehand down-the-line. He snapped his backhand cross-court. He gracefully performed drop shots. He attacked. He was unafraid to exchange shot versus shot against the Serb. “I really wanted to make it as physical as possible,” which I was able to make happen,” said Roger.

Because of RF’s win, the happiest man in Paris today is… Rafa… the arch-rival but best friend of Roger (you should see their YouTube video, giggling and joking for endless minutes while filming an advertisement).

Had Djokovic entered the finals, he’d have been world No.1 when the new ATP rankings are released tomorrow, Monday. Roger prevented that. And he did so during Rafa’s 25th birthday last Friday. Best friends help each other. Roger did his part. Will Rafa return the favor, losing to his similar 6-foot-1, Nike-fully-clothed amigo in tonight’s Grand Finale (at 9 P.M., PHL time)?

Ha-ha. It’s like LeBron James asking Nowitzki, “Hey, Dirk, can you pleeeease give me a chance and give me my first NBA ring?” (Dirk’s reply: ‘Bron, me, too. I’ve never won a title!)

And so we’re back to one of the greatest rivalries in history. “I have another opportunity to beat Rafa here and get the Roland Garros title,” said Roger. “I’ve got to play some extraordinarily special tennis. I’m aware of that. But I obviously took a huge step today, and hope I can get everything together for the final.”

My pick? I’ve always attempted to stand on neutral ground when these two play. Roger is an exquisite, Swiss-cool, one-handed-backhand-hitting, effortless, injury-less gentleman. Rafa is animalistic, bull-like, tenacious-beyond-compare, humble yet ferocious. The two — apart from having collected 21 of the last 24 Grand Slam singles titles since 2005 — also share a loftier accolade: they are two of the most courteous, good-mannered role models in entertainment.

So I pick… “R.” Once, in a Casino Español luncheon with Frank Malilong on one side as Rafa’s Cebu-based attorney and Moya Jackson, Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So on the opposite end as I’m-In-Love-With-Roger lifetime members, it was a cross-fire worse than Mayweather, Sr. and Freddie Roach.

Seriously, as inspired as Roger is by his twin daughters, I’d pick RN. A winner in 44 out of 45 matches in Roland Garros, he’ll add a sixth crown past 12 midnight tonight. Vamos.

The ‘Triangle Offense’ of Roger-Novak-Rafa

Novak Djokovic is the world’s No.1 player. Unofficially. Because based on the ATP rankings, he is No. 2, having recently supplanted Roger Federer. The numero uno is still Rafael Nadal. But, in my tennis book, given that Novak sports an 18-0 record this 2011 and due to his twin wins over Roger (in the Indian Wells semis) and Rafa (finals), then he, rightfully, deserves to be the Top Gun.

Will he, soon, finally become the true ATP No.1? I have no doubt. His confidence level is at its highest. He won the Australian Open. He won the Davis Cup for Serbia. He’s en route to replacing R & R. Is this good for tennis? Absolutely. Rafa and Roger have exchanged No.1 rankings since February 2004. That’s seven long years ago. Since then, it’s been all R & R. Nobody else has become “The Best.” The Roddicks, the Murrays — they’ve all tried. And faltered. Roger and Rafa are the Qaddafis of tennis; they don’t want to relinquish their thrones (I know.. bad joke). Djokovic’s ascension will inspire others to say, “Hey, finally, someone’s been able to do it! We can, too!”

Rafa? He’s got plenty of points to defend in the upcoming clay-court season. If he loses some matches–and Novak wins a few more–they can exchange positions. Novak will be on top. But the problem (to his opponents) is this: Rafa hardly loses on clay. In the opinion of many, including mine, he is the greatest ever on that slow court. Last year, he was undefeated at 22 matches on clay — including his fifth French Open crown.