- The Washington Times - Monday, August 31, 2009

NEW YORK | Roger Federer is a sharp man.

He wears sharp clothes. He has a sharp wit, even when he answers questions from reporters in four different languages.

And as he pursues his sixth straight U.S. Open title this week, his tennis game is apparently as sharp as ever.

Federer arrived in New York over the weekend just days removed from a virtuoso performance against Novak Djokovic to win the Masters 1000 Series title in Cincinnati. A month earlier, he outlasted Andy Roddick in an epic five-set final at Wimbledon to win his record 15th Grand Slam title. In between, he took some time off to celebrate the birth of newborn twins, which gave him the chance to rest his body and mind at home in Switzerland.

“I feel like my game is exactly where I want it to be, and I don’t have many open questions,” Federer said. “I think that’s the relaxing part.”

Rivals be warned: A confident and relaxed Federer is like an obsidian blade. CBS Sports tennis analyst Mary Carillo compared Federer’s Cincinnati win to the penultimate scene from “The Godfather: Part II,” in which members of the mob are picked off one by one with merciless precision.

“He moved so beautifully,” Carillo said. “I was just dazzled. … It was really pretty to watch.”

Federer opens Monday against 18-year-old American Devin Britton, the reigning NCAA singles champion making his first U.S. Open appearance. It’s a match Federer is expected to win, but a run into the tournament’s later rounds could pit him against several seasoned rivals who have had good results this summer.

Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open winner, followed his Wimbledon with a finals appearance at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in the District. Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro beat Roddick in the District and reached the finals of the Masters Series event in Montreal, where he fell to Britain’s Andy Murray. American Sam Querrey secured the U.S. Open Series title with a win in Los Angeles and finals appearances in Indianapolis and New Haven.

Murray, who lost to Federer in a Cincinnati semifinal and in the final of the 2008 U.S. Open, shot down the notion that the world No. 1 was playing better than ever, blaming the most recent loss on his own dull play.

“I start the match a bit sluggish and left a lot of balls in the middle of the court,” he said. “It’s easy to sort of say he looked like he’s playing more aggressive or changed his game style a little bit.”

With top rival Rafael Nadal looking uncertain after a long layoff with knee problems, there is some hope that a new face could appear to blunt Federer’s attempt to slice through the draw.

“You would like to see some of these other guys step up and throw their weight around a little bit, too,” said Jimmy Connors, a five-time U.S. Open winner and commentator for the Tennis Channel. “As much as [fans] like to see Federer-Nadal, once in a while [they want] a Murray or a Roddick to step up and throw their weight around and say, ‘You guys have had a good run.’ Anytime you can add a name or two to a rivalry, where instead of two you have three or four… it’s all good for tennis.”

But what about Nadal, the six-time Grand Slam champion who toppled Federer in the final of the Australian Open in January? His injury break caused him to miss a chance to defend his Wimbledon title from last year and caused his world ranking to fall to No. 3. He showed flashes of his former dominance in tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati but also looked weary at times.

“There seems to be some rust, and his comfort level movementwise is not as effective and as smooth,” four-time U.S. Open winner John McEnroe said. “And he’s not serving as big. Something’s off. I’m thinking it’s something like coming back and pushing too hard.”

Nadal, of course, has never made the final of the U.S. Open and has therefore never been the lone road block for players looking to challenge Federer in New York. In recent years, Murray, Roddick and Djokovic have played to the final day only to lose to Federer, often looking like pupils in a rec league clinic. But Murray and Roddick have worked to make notable improvements in their games in the last year. Both are playing with the knowledge they can hang with Federer, with Murray boasting four wins over the top-ranked Swiss since last year’s U.S. Open loss and Roddick taking him to the brink at Wimbledon.

“There was never a point where I was going to just lay down afterwards or not come back and play hard or anything like that,” Roddick said.

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