Roger Federer might not have been able to handle John Isner on clay in the Davis Cup but, in conditions that should have been more to his opponent's liking, Isner had no play against the Swiss maestro in the final of the BNP Paribas Open.
Federer, racking up the records, became the first player to win this event four times with a 7-6, 6-3 victory over the giant American who was appearing in his first ATP Masters Series 1000 final. In contrast, this was the 19th title Federer had won at this level on the ATP tour -- drawing alongside Rafael Nadal -- and, over all, the 73rd of his legendary career.
None of this makes Federer No. 1 in the world, despite having lost only twice since the US Open -- a run that has seen him win six of his last eight tournaments -- because Novak Djokovic holds three of the four Grand Slams and will not lose his No. 1 ranking any time soon. However, even allowing for the fact that Djokovic defended his title at the Australian Open in January, there is no question that, week in and week out, Federer has been playing the best tennis over the past six months.
The season coming up after Miami on European clay and then on grass at Wimbledon will determine how the top four sort themselves out but, at the moment, Federer looks unstoppable.
One of his prime goals is regaining the No. 1 spot -- and challenging Pete Sampras for the number of weeks spent there. But when Pam Shriver asked him after his victory Sunday which single achievement would make him most happy this year, he replied, "Well, I suppose winning Olympic gold, why not? The Olympics are being played at Wimbledon this year, and it would be very special."
Although he won the Olympic gold in doubles with Stan Wawrinka at Beijing in 2008, singles gold remains the one major achievement in the game that has so far eluded a man who has won 16 Grand Slam titles, all four of them at least once. On grass at Wimbledon, it would be tough to bet against him in this form.
It was a big occasion for Isner and he proved himself worthy of his new position in the world's top ten. The first set was very competitive but the windy conditions, made more difficult still with clouds scudding across the sun, seemed to trouble the big man more than the fleet-footed Federer and, with his forehand working at full throttle and his serve as smooth as silk, he always seemed in control of the match.
Federer reached set point at 6-5 on Isner's serve but a huge serve down the center took care of that and ensured that a capacity crowd of 16,000 would have a tie break to enjoy. If Federer looked vulnerable at any stage it was here, which was hardly surprising. One slip against a player who serves like Isner and it can be all over. And there was a slip when Federer netted a hesitant looking forehand to go a mini-break down at 2-3. But a very deep forehand service return on the next point was too much for Isner to handle and they changed at 3-3.
Isner should have seized on the advantage of serving with the wind with the sun suddenly disappearing behind clouds but instead he put a forehand into the net. Federer, still a little edgy, double faulted from the difficult end but, once again, the depth of his service return earned him another advantage. Isner saved the next two set points but then a misjudgment proved fatal. Federer half ****** a backhand which flew high into Isner's backhand volley zone. But he let it go, and the ball dropped smack on the line. The crowd groaned, Roger apologized and John shook his head. It gave Federer his fourth set point at 8-7 on his serve and a lovely first delivery to the backhand finally did the job.
With a stream of forehand winners catching Isner out of position time and again and Federer winning 94 percent of the points when he got his first serve into play, the second set had an air of inevitability about it, and one service break in the seventh game proved the decider.
Although disappointed, Isner, with the memory of his terrific win over Djokovic in the semifinal still fresh, was upbeat afterwards.
"I felt from the get-go that I was going to have a good wee,k and it was a lot of fun," he said. "I don't think I lost because of my serve although maybe I wasn't serving as big as usual. He was on top of me and was way too good today. I felt he served better than he had in the Davis Cup. I felt I had a good bead on his second serve in Switzerland but not so much today. He was mixing it up well. And his forehand was far too good."
Roll on Miami.