Federer fights back at US Open
Roger Federer beats Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in the US Open’s third round.1 September 2008
NEW YORK -- As if trying to remind himself and everyone else where he's been and where he's quite certain he'll return, Roger Federer thrust his right fist overhead and pointed skyward with his index finger.
The universal gesture for No 1.
As Federer made that signal, the 1970s song "Still the One" by Orleans rang out through Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, marking the end of the four-time defending champion's 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory over 28th-seeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in the US Open's third round.
For the first time in a while, Federer is not No. 1 - in the seedings for the hard-court Grand Slam tournament or in the ATP rankings. Those honours belong to Rafael Nadal, who beat Federer in the lopsided French Open and epic Wimbledon finals and last week ended his record 237-week stay at the top.
Federer harbours no doubts that he can re-establish his ranking and his reputation among opponents, both built on the strength of 12 career major singles titles, two shy of Pete Sampras' career record.
"That's the advantage I have. If I were to win a big tournament again, one of those Slams, whatever, right away I have the invincibility factor again, which is great for me," he said. "So that's what I'm working for. I was that close in Wimbledon, so I hope to go a step further and win it this time."
It's been a poor-by-his-standards season for Federer, whose 12 losses already are more than he absorbed in any entire year from 2004-07. His two titles, at minor events, are his fewest entering the US Open since 2002.
On the other hand, Federer did reach the semi-finals at the Australian Open before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic and was the runner-up at the other two major tournaments.
"I would love his bad year. ... The guy has the best four-year run ever, and we're all sitting here in shock that it's not the best five-year run ever. We have to use a little bit of perspective here as far as how good he's been," said Andy Roddick, the last man other than Federer to win the US Open, back in 2003, and his potential semi-final opponent this year.
Federer's next opponent is No 23 Igor Andreev of Russia, and the Swiss star will be trying to extend his 30 consecutive victories in the US Open.
One of Federer's surprising 2008 setbacks came against Stepanek in May on clay in Rome.
The surface, the city and the stature of the tournaments were all quite different on Sunday. Still, it made sense to ask Stepanek whether Federer was better on this day than on that one.
"I don't know if he's better, but definitely I think he's more hungry than he was a couple of months ago," Stepanek said.
"For the last four, five years, everything went his way. And suddenly, you know, there's somebody who took it away from him," Stepanek said. "And I think Roger is competitive enough that he wants it back. And he knows that he has to get better."
[AP / Expatica]