Roger Federer is old. Old for the highest level of tennis, at least, at 29. He's small and anemic compared to the young, tall and muscular behemoths blasting 140-mph serves left and right.
He's over the hill. Past his prime.
But done? Not a chance.
Anyone who watched Federer battle Mardy Fish last weekend in Cincinnati, coming back from a set down to win consecutive hard-fought sets over a guy who hadn't lost to a top-10 player all year, knows the Greatest of All Time is far from finished. In fact, as the U.S. Open begins tomorrow, I'd pick only one guy over Federer -- his rival Rafael Nadal, who happens to have won the last two major championships.
And that's, really, a coin-flip pick for me.
Is Federer the same player he was two, three, five years ago? No, of course not. He is a bit slower than his competition and not as strong. But he has a HUGE mental edge, having navigated his way to a record 16 majors. He, more than any player in history, knows how to win a grueling match, a match in which he might not be hitting the ball as hard as his opponent or moving as nimbly.
Many experts are picking Andy Murray to finally break through and win his first major in New York. He's a solid pick. After all, just a couple weeks ago he took care of Federer -- 7-5, 7-5 -- on hard courts in Toronto. But that was Toronto. Federer has owned Murray under the microscope of the year's final grand slam, and I wouldn't bet against him in a rematch.
Even taking Nadal over Federer is a bit of a shaky pick considering Nadal's record on hard courts. He's still chasing that elusive U.S. Open title, which I think he'll finally get in two weeks. Nadal is the only player on tour who can match Federer in the mental category. So it's only appropriate that he's seeded No. 1 and Federer No. 2 entering the tournament.
What makes Federer a scary player to face in New York is that by his standards, he's having a down year. He won the Australian Open, but was ousted in the quarterfinals at the French Open and Wimbledon -- early exits ... by his standards. Not only that, but he's had to hear all this talk about him being over the hill, about the window closing. Even with two more career majors than anyone else, he's as motivated as ever. He's adjusting his game to best fit his athletic abilities. He's only playing in the tournaments -- 16 to 20 a year -- that he cares about.
Ultimately, he really only cares about winning more majors, and he recently told the BBC that he believes he can add four more to his resume -- reaching a sterling 20 for his career. That quest begins now. The young guns will be spraying serves all over the place and ripping winners.
But let's not forget who the No. 2 seed, deservedly, is. I won't be betting against him anytime soon.