The sweetest bagelIt was the 25th of January, 2007. I had risen very early that day, at 5 am, in order to catch a train. Back home, the inevitable respects were paid to cable, and the last fragments of Sharapova's Australian Open semi-final were seen. A surprise: the first men's semi-final, featuring Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, was to be played at 2:30 pm IST the same day, and not on Friday. That meant the end of a salubrious afternoon nap.
The pre-match speculation was all about how Roddick, in concert with Jimmy Connors, had improved his game, while Federer was making loaded statements saying he didn't practice (or was it just the ultra-cheerful Wilkins-Amritraj joDii that read too much into it?) that much. The gap had seemingly been reduced. OK, let's see, one thought.
Set one. I was watching something else, and before I could get back, Federer had broken Roddick to go 1-0 up. But Roddick broke back later in the set, and we went: "ah, here's the contest we've been promised for years" (BTW, head-to-head Roddick was 1-12 before the match, I think, with the one on his side having last come in 2003.) Federer didn't look all that menacing, but was still good enough to take the first set 6-4, having broke A-Rod once more.
Then it began. Roddick served. Somebody had fiddled with the time-controls. The ball was coming back probably even before Roddick had served it. He would make outrageous angles, only to see the ball whizz back at angles that Euclid had never imagined. Federer picked up a half-volley from the baseline to send it crosscourt past Roddick - a Roddick who has been on the receiving end of many a sublime Federer stroke, but the consistency and length of the conjuring trick was the magic here.
It got so bad that Roddick, like a befuddled kindergartener, was looking up at Connors after almost every shot, with trembling lips. But even if Connors' had taken the premium correspondence course from Yuri Sharapov, he wouldn't have been able to do much. You felt really bad for Roddick. As Harish implied in a post, Federer is creating new and despairing patients for sports psychiatrists.
Eventually and after some apologies from Federer for being so good, it was all over. Not surprisingly, the set had been won 6-0. I cannot recall having seen a more soul-affirming/destroying (depending on which side of the net you are) set than that.