BOUND FOR GLORY: THE GREATEST STREAK IN SPORTS HISTORY
By Peter H. Nez
After the forecast gloomed something awful, and tennis fans geared for their action packed Tuesday, by towing umbrellas and slickers, the quarterfinal between the defending champion Roger Federer, and the upstart who crashed the fiesta Del la Espanola last year: Robin Soderling, started on the eve of a potential 24 straight semis or better run by Federer, a streak that is unmatched in the sport, or any other sport for that matter. Broadcaster Patrick McEnroe called the streak, “The greatest streak in tennis history.” I go even further by calling it the greatest streak in sports history period.
Soderling the wiry, lanky Swede, with Dr. Suess face, and quirks to match, had a 0-12 record heading in. If given the right color, and the right kind of eyes, one could see the shades of the Grinch in the young Swedes smirks and overall demeanor on court. Could anyone foresee Soderling manifesting the Grinch that stole Tennis Glory? Two years in a row?
The first set was typical in their historic matchup. Roger, with majestic movement and balletic flourishes, took the opener 6-3. Commentator Brad Gilbert remarked, “I’ve never seen anyone slide on clay better than Federer,” going as far as saying, “Even his socks stay clean. He glides so well, that he doesn’t have the typical smears and smudges most players have.” It looked that number 24 for Roger would be inevitable. Then something happened that may have only happened once in tennis history in the past five or six years: Soderling’s racquet morphed into a 12 gauge shotgun, with the accuracy of a laser sighted pistol. Line after line bombasted and thumped past the Swiss Maestro’s flailing efforts to defend, set after set. Soderling was compiling an offensive so massive that the Roger base looked pitiful in comparison. You could feel the Swede’s pop on his racquet swelter the Maestro’s usually impervious front. This was reminiscent of the Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro’s missile strike at the 2009 US Open. Forehands blistered, serves rocketed, and the flag was still there. This wasn’t the lefty anomaly of spin mayhem that Nadal mustered to garner a winning record against the holy one, but an all out onslaught of power that inspired large oohs and aahhs from the Parisian spectators. Darren Cahill repeatedly commented that Soderling was “Bringing the heat!” Soderling’s average second serve ranged in the 115 to 118 mph zone, and he held serve much more comfortably than he had in previous meetings. But wait a minute… this was the “Greatest of All Time” wasn’t it? There had to be a response right? One would think. But, the same thing happened that I have been witnessing happen, with scratchy head and bewilderment, for the past several years: The Federer kryptonite forehand emerged. Amidst rain soaked Parisian skies and grounds, the usually competent, jedi-light-saberesque forehand of Roger’s, sprayed the back of the courts almost as much as the groundskeepers’ water hose. Routine short balls ended up five feet out of bounds, and the Roger Empire in Paris was crumbling fast. And as Roger’s ground strokes became more wobbly, Robin’s ground strokes gained heat and the white lines of Roland Garros couldn’t have been bigger for the Swede, as stroke after ripping stroke painted the lines regularly. If one looked closely one could see smoke fuming from the top of Soderling’s Head racquet. If the story last year was ‘The Slaying of the Dragon’ than this year’s would indubitably be ‘The Demolition of The Royal Palace.’
Still, even after the near perfect assault of Soderling on the Royal grounds, Roger’s streak of 23 semis stands alone in sports history and in my mind will never be surpassed. In today’s game, where the top fifty players in the world would easily have been top ten or better fifteen years ago, to reach a milestone as that even supersedes the 16 slam titles in my humble view. And with Roger’s game and playing style, if he can remain healthy, which he has done, and doesn’t lose the hunger to play, which he has claimed is safely in tact until at least 2015, who knows? Could it be fathomable that Roger could be the one to beat the streak?