Roger Federer brought his U.S. Open–title streak to five yesterday, and it dawned on us the real reason those Federer–Rafael Nadal finals had once been so riveting. Sure, this year could have pitted the world’s two best players in the Greatest Match Ever (or at least the best one since their last Greatest Match Ever), etc., etc. But we think it’s this: Nadal’s probably the only human alive who can beat the guy — if he’s both remotely healthy and actually trying — and watching Federer win every year isn’t really as much fun as you’d think it should be.
That’s been the problem with Federer at Flushing Meadows: He’s usually too good to be exciting, or, maybe more accurately, too good to participate in an exciting match. Add to it the fact that he isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs off the court, and you somehow drain the fun out of what’s really a historic moment.
The most exciting match of the entire tournament might have been Federer’s fourth-round meeting with Igor Andreev, in which Federer struggled, for once, before holding on in five sets. You got the sense that the crowd wasn’t necessarily rooting against Federer, but that they wanted to see how close he could get to losing without actually losing, like some game of elimination chicken.
Federer won, naturally, but there was at least a momentary hope that he was mortal. And since Nadal had had his number all year, the men’s bracket was up for grabs for the first time in half a decade. But then Nadal lost to Andy Murray on Sunday, and, for all intents and purposes, it was over. Put it this way: Federer probably didn’t play his best tennis over the last two weeks, and he still won the damn title in straight sets. Maybe next year will be the one where Federer does something fun. Losing, for once, would be a nice start.