Federer reminds Dubai of his brilliance
You really need to watch this kid Federer from Switzerland. Not to get carried away here, but he looks like he could have a bright future and a nice career.
As he won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday night, he gave an excellent impression of spryness. He reminded 5,000 enthusiastic viewers that much like 50 is not what it used to be and 40 is not what it used to be, 30 is not what it used to be.
Neither is 31, which he will reach in August, in a summer crammed with Roland Garros and Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow and also Olympics, a heavy span during which, yet again, Roger Federer will figure eminently.
After all, even in 2011 during his first grand slam title-less year since 2002, the Meryl Streep of men's tennis lurked a few points here and there from possible French Open and US Open rebirths.
He might have gone eight majors since a major title, but a little bit of confidence, and a shot here and there, and ...
Now he wins Dubai again, five years after winning it the previous time. He hears people chanting his name. He gets goose bumps.
It was big love at the Aviation Club, but it also might have had pertinence.
Since his US Open nightmare from two match points up against Novak Djokovic last September in their semi-final clash, he has won Basel, Paris, London, Rotterdam and Dubai, and lost an Australian Open semi-final to Rafael Nadal, whom he cannot seem to beat in a grand slam.
Now, four of those wins happened indoors, in controlled climates, because nobody has mounted a successful campaign to move Rotterdam outdoors in February just for entertainment value.
You do have to analyse surfaces, as beaten finalist Andy Murray did on Saturday night.
"I think that the indoor season and the surfaces like this one" – read: fast – "I mean, if there were more tournaments on these courts, I think he could definitely be number one in the world for the next few years. It really suits his game well.
"Just so many of the courts are so slow now. You know, it's nice for us to get a change-up like here.
"Some of the tournaments are so slow it's tough against so many guys that are moving well and serving big. You know, it's become tougher and tougher to stay at the top of the game longer, I think."
True, there's a lot of wrestling out there on tour on the slow courts, and wrestling can be grinding.
Still, there came a sterling moment on Friday night in the second semi-final, the one between Federer and Juan Martín del Potro, the one Federer won 7-6, 7-6.
Just about banged out of the second-set tiebreaker at 6-2 down and facing four set points, it looked as if Federer decided to dig in and bang back. He did get to 6-all.
That next point might turn out unforgettable, although you'll have to ask 10 years from now. For a 29-shot rally, this 30 year old stood in with a 23 year old for a whole bunch of searing magnificence.
From corner to corner and baseline to baseline they went, Del Potro producing about five shots that seemed ample bids for the point, Federer replying until Del Potro did err.
While it did not look like Federer of 2004 or 2005 - will anything, ever? - it did look like it had that added notch of confidence.
So he said, "I'm defending much better than maybe I was in the middle of last year, where I felt like I couldn't come out of the tough defensive positions anymore."
And he said, "Eight of the top 10 players were here. I didn't drop a set." And he said the whole thing "gives me hope that I can carry it over to Indian Wells and Miami," the next two large tournaments on the calendar.
He spoke of his tennis-historic win over Pete Sampras in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2001, when he served-and-volleyed almost constantly. Then he took the "big, big step into the very top of the rankings, I would say, to actually improve my baseline game," which helped him contend with people such as Andre Agassi, David Nalbandian, Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Now, all this time later, in a tournament that included Djokovic, you could see Federer not only grinding in against Del Potro, but crowding the net against Murray as the bolder player in the final.
That kind of thing could run off with your imagination, make you wonder about future adjustments and future crescendos, make you want to continue watching this kid Federer.
Luckily, it always was a pleasure anyway.