The matchup that had been an early round focal point for me just finished with Roger Federer beating Fabrice Santoro 6-1 6-2 6-0. What looks like just another footnote in Federer's run toward the final is actually pretty special. Santoro is a guy that everyone on tour ab-so-lutely hates to play against. He puts virtually no pace on the ball, he gets to everything, and has the most dazzling array of trick shots. He's even reduced Marat Safin, who was ranked #1 in the world just before the reign of Roger, to say "being told I would play Santoro was being told I was to die."
Despite that reputation, Federer just dismantled the man known as "The Magician". Just took him apart, ran him side to side, forward and backward, with an array of spectacular winners that had Santoro himself putting his racket down so he could see one of the highlights on the stadium screen.
We're going to talk about this over and over again, because I think it's that important and that special to the world of sports. When you watch Roger Federer play tennis, you are watching an artist practice his craft. You're not watching a Hall of Famer or a Grand Slam champion. You are watching a man who transcends not just his sport, but the very conception of the way his sport can be played. He plays the game in a way that is almost inconceivable, and I say almost because he actually can move like flowing water, hit with heavy pace and the softest touch, and demonstrate an unparalleled creativity.
I have been asking myself and listening to various broadcasters expound on how this could be possible. Of course there are multiple factors at work: speed, size, instinct, focus, commitment, etc. All of these things contribute. To me, the crux of his performance, the backbone upon which all of his mastery can come from is his impeccable body control. First, Federer is a really big guy, tall and muscular, which gives him the ability to generate tremendous pace and spin. Second, he's unbelievably fast, though it's hard to tell because he moves so smoothly and gracefully over the court. There are lots of guys that have one or both of these tools, but no one has ever been able to combine them so elegantly and effectively.
Federer moves around the court in such a fashion that he is able to get himself in perfect position to hit the ball, and he has exquisite control over that movement. You never, ever see him out of position, and he would not be able to hit the shots he can if he wasn't properly positioned. When he gets to the ball, no matter how hard he's running, his form is always perfect; i.e. his foundation is always in place. Just watch him on slow motion replay, it's like a textbook every time he hits the ball. Racket back, shoulders turned, head perfectly still, eyes on the ball. It truly is magic.
If you want to see a brilliant example of this, go to youtube and type in "roger federer slow motion" in the search field. There are some brilliant clips of Fed that illustrate my point. He's just a breed apart, and you never know when an athlete like that is going to come along again.
I'll have a great deal more to say about him as the tournament goes on, just be sure you watch him play, because it's like nothing you've ever seen before or may ever see again.