SOME BODY stop me!

Roger Federer is presently master of all he surveys. He is not only at the top of his game, he is perhaps one of the finest all-round athletes in the world, writes VIJAY PARTHASARATHY.

ANDY RODDICK, through no real fault of his, was made to look silly last fortnight; his graceful post-match witticisms notwithstanding, Roddick stood sheepishly like a stand-up comic who had already fudged his best lines.

Funnily enough, this time against Roger Federer, Roddick had seemed in with a chance. Over the past season the 22-year-old American has grown particularly fidgety; something that might or might not have to do with his lack of Grand Slam success in recent times. Those OCD tics, those already exaggerated mannerisms (particularly the sleeve-tugging, compulsively jumpy behaviour between points) appear to have intensified over the past year; which is why it was something of a pleasant surprise to see a composed-looking Roddick stride onto Centre Court the day of the Wimbledon final.

The man on your TV screen appeared for a change serene, yet, as insidiously purposeful as Rambo cradling a bazooka: he wouldn't be denied this time. True to form, the American began comfortably enough, riding piggyback on his trademark big serves to win easy points in his first couple of service games.

Of course, from there onwards, it was pretty much downhill. By the time it was over, it was clear A-Rod had not only been denied, he had been mugged and knocked cold. Roddick to his infinite credit, we know, retains a fine sense of humour; but the self-deprecatory jibes barely conceal the trauma, the frustration and above all the bewilderment he must experience every time he plays Federer.

"I did everything I could — I tried playing different ways," Roddick said after the match. "I tried going to his forehand and coming in, and he passed me. I tried to go to his backhand and coming in. He passed me. I tried staying back. And he figured out a way to pass me — even though I was at the baseline."

For the record Federer had nearly 50 winners from every part of the court, and so effortless was the world number one's performance that at times he made it look like he was practising his passes. John McEnroe, one of the finest shot-makers in the game, reckons Federer could be the greatest ever; his opinion was initially branded as hasty but now a third consecutive Wimbledon title for the Swiss shows the left-hander has a gift for prescience. Whether or not Federer wins 14 Slams, he has already proved he owns the prettiest game ever: nobody in history has played both the forehand and backhand with such ferocious felicity.

What probably separates Federer from the rest is the uncanny ability to read the spin on the ball earlier than most, then to methodically conceive, in the fraction of a second, of a dozen angles others could not have imagined existed, and finally to execute his preferred shot with the accuracy of William Tell. His reach and pace are among the most underrated aspects to his game; he also has the ability to shift gears in an instant from defensive to offensive, which is basically how he dismantles Andy Roddick's serve nine times out of 10 — coincidentally, the status on their head-to-head.


It is said Andre Agassi at his peak concentrated so hard that he could actually read the letters on the brand as the ball spun towards him. (Of course, the brand-conscious Agassi would have done exactly that.) Since making his Grand Slam breakthrough in 2003, Federer has managed to raise his consciousness to similarly unbelievable levels, levels that his contemporaries could never hope to attain. Ahead of last year's final against Roddick, Federer made an interesting point: "Few of us get to practise against someone who serves at 130 mph. But somehow I've always been able to comfortably read Andy's serve. Not easily, mind you, but comfortably."

NEVER before has a world number one dominated his closest competition so overwhelmingly. Fact is the likes of Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Tim Henman have been eclipsed by greatness. Indeed, these men are all fine tennis players — one supposes they would fit snugly in virtually any another era, banging in those tremendous serves or chasing down every ball with the enthusiasm of a fox-terrier or volleying with quaint Victorian charm (depending on personal predilections) — but here and now, these men have been consigned to walk-on roles, they have been reduced to also-rans. There is of course the curious case of Marat Safin, perhaps the only contemporary who hasn't yet been trampled upon to the point of being smothered. The two have played some consistently fantastic matches over the past season; and under normal circumstances, to borrow a phrase, this town wouldn't have been big enough for the both of them. Only, the moody Russian has disintegrated on-court a thousand times over without the Swiss needing to interfere. Federer at this stage has the benefit of a unique perspective: he is presently master of all he surveys. He is not only at the top of his game, he is perhaps one of the finest all-round athletes in the world, a truth confirmed by his Laureus Award trophy, which he won over the likes of Michael Schumacher and Lance Armstrong, men who aren't quite pushovers in their respective disciplines. Federer, always refreshingly honest to the point of marvellous self-assurance, himself regularly confesses to being amazed by the level of his play, and attributes the consistency to mental freshness.

"I think I've made many good choices in the past few years that have kept me away from being injured. I'm very thankful for that. That's what has allowed me to be here as a winner," he said last week. "You always find ways, little things that make a difference. Over the years you gain in experience. You grow as a man. You get more power. You have more time to work on your shots and your fitness. It's just important to stay fresh mentally. That's why you've got to choose a good schedule. I also consider that as getting smarter and better in the game."

SO is there a way to penetrate his armour? Many fear not, especially when Federer is in form (which, admittedly, he is most of the time). Safin, Nadal and the French teenager, Richard Gasquet, have proved that Federer is not quite invincible, even if he is bloody-minded and indomitable. Safin brought him down with firepower; Nadal wore him out with some remarkable retrieving. Gasquet, by the way, has a game that appears suspiciously similar to Federer's blueprint — he possesses the same precocious talent — and, who knows, in the rapid course of evolution he could soon replace Federer as the greatest player in history, just as Federer himself is presently occupied with bringing down monuments raised to Sampras.

As if that weren't scary enough, Federer could get even better. Certainly, it would present a depressing prospect for the lesser players, some of whom have desperately convinced themselves that there must be a limit to this madness. Federer offers proof that he is always scheming, looking for ways to sharpen his game. "I wish I could play sometimes a little different, maybe serve and volley on first and second serve, but it's a risk. In the end I play to win and not really for the fans, but I'm lucky that my game comes across pretty good, so I don't really have to worry about that.

"I remember telling myself when I was younger that people won't see my great shots on Court 17. They will only see them on Centre Court. So I made sure that my ranking was good enough so that I can get there and show it to them."