Monday, March 12, 2007

Stopped Cold

No one expected Roger Federer to lose in his opening match at Indian Wells this year, no one including the man who beat him.

Guillermo Canas, continuing his work to return to the upper echelon of the ATP tennis world knocked off Federer 7-5, 6-2 in the second round on Sunday.

It's hard to decide what is more baffling: that Canas lost earlier this week in qualifying and was granted a spot in the main draw after Xavier Malisse pulled out, or that Federer hadn't lost in 41 matches, or since August of last year.

Federer is always shaking off early-round rust at tournaments like these. He did much of that the last two weeks in the Middle East, battling through tight two setters and getting over hiccups to overcome early opponents, but Canas - returning from a 15-month doping ban - did what no one has done since Andy Murray in Canada last summer: beat Roger Federer.

In matches like these, the rest of the tour has to exhale a sigh of relief, Federer is indeed human. Sometimes - especially in the recent past - we tend to forget that the world's number one can be beat, and can look very human in a 39-error loss.

Yet the question that remains for me is where has rivalry gone on the men's tour? Nadal has struggled, as has Roddick, Blake and many other of the usual Federer-chasers. It's been guys like Canas and Murray who have been able to tame the Mighty Fed, yet no one has posed a consistent test for the Swiss.

For that is what both tours are in need of, those great rivalries that makes the game so riveting. Because with the floating untouchable-ness that Federer has had of late now gone, rivalries like Agassi-Sampras and Borg-McEnroe must materialize in order to keep the fans interested.

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