Federer's 'best' shot spells doom for next victim

Martin Rogers

NEW YORK – Everything about it, from its timing to execution, was impudent, outrageous and mind-boggling. But then again, this is Roger Federer.

That Federer would choose the final game of a Grand Slam semifinal to pull off the shot of his life, an extraordinary strike between his legs with his back to the net that rifled away for the cleanest of winners, says everything about the way the world's finest player has overhauled his mind and methodology over the past 12 months.

Opponent Novak Djokovic could only look on Sunday in bewilderment and issue a wry smile. In case you hadn't heard, the King is back, and he's doing whatever he likes.

Federer's summer involved winning the French Open and Wimbledon, getting married and becoming a father, a quartet of triumphs that has returned him to the sparkling mental state that spawned total domination of tennis a few years back.

Once again he is patrolling Flushing Meadows with a predatory strut and a glint in his eye, sizing up the next foe and another clasp of the silver cup.

This, after all, is his event, the one he turned to for solace even when his mentality and game were in the doldrums and Rafael Nadal was prowling his way to the top of the rankings.

Federer has faced five men in his five straight finals here, but there has only been one outcome each time and victory No. 6 beckons on Monday afternoon.

"I am proud of my accomplishments in New York," he said. "No matter how old or how great the opponents were, it is just a matter of hoping I have got one more match in me to get to six in a row.

"It would be absolutely amazing. It is something I wasn't able to do at Wimbledon, even though I came so close. I am feeling great. I really hope I can do it."

Juan Martin del Potro is a different beast to most of his previous finals foes, a bludgeoning aggressor with phenomenal power. The Argentinean is a rising force, no question about it, but you sense he does not yet possess sharp enough talons to depose the leader of the pack.

Federer's performance in the semifinals against Djokovic was far from vintage. Yet his innate sense of belief, especially in this arena, is firmly in place and he is riding a wave that looks set to take him to three straight majors and 16 overall.

If he is feeling enough buzz to try shots through his legs at critical junctures, he is unlikely to be feeling too much trepidation about facing Slam final rookie del Potro.

Federer is totally at ease here, whether slicing and dicing rival after rival or fielding questions as to whether his wonder-shot was the best of his career.

"Well, I would think so," he said. "The way I was able to hit it, with pace and accuracy, it is something that happens so rarely.

"It is the semi of a Grand Slam, so to come up with that, to get match point against Djokovic is amazing, so that it why I think it is probably the best."

It matters little that del Potro produced a display of exceptional quality in surrendering just six games to Nadal in Sunday's first semifinal. If del Potro takes time to settle in Monday's final and get accustomed to unfamiliarly rarefied air, then the match could be half over before he even realizes it.

"You feel like del Potro is improving every month," Federer said. "He is hitting his serves better, from the baseline he is getting more confident. He knows much more now what he needs to do on the court."

The problem is that no one knows his way around a court like Federer, especially this court.

The defending champ has much in his favor going into Monday's showdown, where fresh meat lies in wait for him.