I sent my last essay on tennis to my college class mailing list. Someone responded that tennis “is graceful probably because it’s important to save as much energy as possible in such a marathon, and so every move must be clean and accurate.”

You should’ve told Baghdatis this before the men’s singles final, because it turned out to be the No. 1 reason for the end of his amazing run.

The match was live on 3am last morning, and replayed on 12pm. We watched the replay without checking the results, and were indeed kept on suspense until the 3rd set, when Bag-man ran out of steam and let Federer Express roll over him.

This has become a striking trend in men’s tennis in recent years. Take a set from Federer while you can; once he kicks into his high gears and plays out his full grace, you’re done. So the best that his opponent can hope for is that for whatever reason Federer gets stuck in his early round mood.

I think Federer himself is well aware of that, and that’s what’s really scary about this guy. He almost always finds a way to motivate himself into what’s he’s fully capable of, which is to play on a whole different level than anybody else. I guess it’s not too hard to find the motivation when you’re in an ATP final, and that’s why his most amazing record (so far) is the 34-9 in ATP finals, with most of the losts in his early career, except last year’s Masters Cup in Shanghai where he lost to Nalbandian due to injury.

Sometimes it feels almost painful to watch Federer not playing his best. He would seem quite remote to the match, no sweat, no emotion, and no grace. Once in a while he tickles you with an incredible shot that reminds you of his greatness, then falls back to his aloofness. He isn’t great when he doesn’t have to be. It’s quite condescending to his opponents, but that’s just part of his plan: he knows he’ll be the greatest player ever with a unthinkable record like 25 grand slam titles with a few Grand Slam, and the only obstacle would be injury. On a side note, I suppose that’s why he cried like never before at the podium, after being handed the trophy from Rod Laver, the only man in the Open Era to win Grand Slam (twice), also after whom the stadium is named. Federer sees greatness and he’s humbled by it. This man knows history and his place in it.

Now back to the Bag-man: what a character! As the newest member of the anti-Federer campaign, he seems to possess all the weapons at a mere 20 years of age: big serve, fast legs, strong backhand, and most of all, charisma. He is smart and cool, and fights till the end (shame on Henin-Hardenne!). The amount of coverage on the tiny island of Cyprus in the last two weeks is probably close to the sum of last twenty years. Two anecdotes: 1) He hardly ever show excessive emotion, like fist pumping. It’s incredible for such a young guy at his first grand slam final to be so relaxed and composed. It’s a stark contrast to the “comon!” from the Hewitts and gimmicks from the Roddicks, which may please the crowd but make them emotionally vulnerable. 2) He has a beautiful young model girlfriend, who stole most of the camera shots from Federer’s stout fiancee-manager. It’d be interesting to see how the relationship plays out for Baghdatis’ career and if he learns anything from Andre Agassi 😉

We’re living in a great era, witnessing legends in many sports: Diego Maradona, Michael Jordan, Carl Lewis, Wayne Gretzky, Jan-Ove Waldner, Tiger Woods, … Let’s hope the Federer Express keeps rolling for many years to come, keeping generations of players constantly catching up along…