Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not done yet: Federer will win more majors


Roger Federer is old. Old for the highest level of tennis, at least, at 29. He's small and anemic compared to the young, tall and muscular behemoths blasting 140-mph serves left and right.

He's over the hill. Past his prime.

But done? Not a chance.

Anyone who watched Federer battle Mardy Fish last weekend in Cincinnati, coming back from a set down to win consecutive hard-fought sets over a guy who hadn't lost to a top-10 player all year, knows the Greatest of All Time is far from finished. In fact, as the U.S. Open begins tomorrow, I'd pick only one guy over Federer -- his rival Rafael Nadal, who happens to have won the last two major championships.

And that's, really, a coin-flip pick for me.

Is Federer the same player he was two, three, five years ago? No, of course not. He is a bit slower than his competition and not as strong. But he has a HUGE mental edge, having navigated his way to a record 16 majors. He, more than any player in history, knows how to win a grueling match, a match in which he might not be hitting the ball as hard as his opponent or moving as nimbly.

Many experts are picking Andy Murray to finally break through and win his first major in New York. He's a solid pick. After all, just a couple weeks ago he took care of Federer -- 7-5, 7-5 -- on hard courts in Toronto. But that was Toronto. Federer has owned Murray under the microscope of the year's final grand slam, and I wouldn't bet against him in a rematch.

Even taking Nadal over Federer is a bit of a shaky pick considering Nadal's record on hard courts. He's still chasing that elusive U.S. Open title, which I think he'll finally get in two weeks. Nadal is the only player on tour who can match Federer in the mental category. So it's only appropriate that he's seeded No. 1 and Federer No. 2 entering the tournament.

What makes Federer a scary player to face in New York is that by his standards, he's having a down year. He won the Australian Open, but was ousted in the quarterfinals at the French Open and Wimbledon -- early exits ... by his standards. Not only that, but he's had to hear all this talk about him being over the hill, about the window closing. Even with two more career majors than anyone else, he's as motivated as ever. He's adjusting his game to best fit his athletic abilities. He's only playing in the tournaments -- 16 to 20 a year -- that he  cares about.

Ultimately, he really only cares about winning more majors, and he recently told the BBC that he believes he can add four more to his resume -- reaching a sterling 20 for his career. That quest begins now. The young guns will be spraying serves all over the place and ripping winners.

But let's not forget who the No. 2 seed, deservedly, is. I won't be betting against him anytime soon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vikings' trio did the right thing -- after all, it's about winning, right?

In our Ford-tough, I'd rather get lost in a cornfield than ask for directions, hard-hitting society for men in America, asking for a favor -- or, gasp, pleading with someone -- is not very cool. After all, we don't need anyone, right? We're strong and independent.

So, naturally, the Vikings trio of Jared Allen, Ryan Longwell and Steve Hutchinson received some grief for their trip to Mississippi Monday night with the purported goal of getting an answer out of that Brett Favre guy -- ever heard of him? -- about his football-playing answer. They were hoping, of course, that the 39-year-old Hall-of-Fame gunslinger would agree to play one more year, but really, they just wanted a "yes" or "no."

(It's nice to know whom you'll be sacking other quarterbacks for so they can return to the field; whom you'll be protecting; and whom you'll be kicking for, respectively -- at least a couple weeks before the season.)

Former Patriots linebacker and ESPN analyst Teddi Bruschi, among others, was highly critical of the mini summer vacation, saying he lost respect for the Vikings and that the mighty Pats would never do such a thing. Yeah, and if Tom Brady wasn't so loyal and willing to play hard, at least for now, for much less money than he deserves, he'd be gone and New England would be a very subpar team.

The three Vikings, bottom line, did the right thing. They wanted to know, now, who's going to be behind center this fall, so they forced an answer out of Favre. And now that No. 4 is back in the saddle, anyone who's ever watched him on the field knows that he'll give his all to the organization and his teammates, risking his aging body on every offensive snap.

This is Brett Favre, people, not some clown who might quit after four games, take snaps off, or disrupt the team's chemistry. While he might not be as incredible as his 33-touchdown, seven-interception gem of a season in '09 -- the best of his career -- he'll give the Vikings a much better chance to get to the Super Bowl than Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels would.

Minnesota has never won a Super Bowl. Neither have Allen, Longwell and Hutchinson. The city wants one badly. So do the three of them -- all veterans without too many years left, by the way (except for Longwell, who, as a kicker, should play until he's 51).

So why not give yourself the best chance to win now?

This isn't a baseball team shipping away its prospects for one chance at the World Series. This is a good team becoming, possibly, great. The only sacrifice it's making is a year of "development" for Jackson and/or Rosenfels and, possibly, the realization that neither is the answer to the team's future at quarterback.

Could this thing backfire? Could Favre get knocked down in Week 1 and finally "retire?" Absolutely. Obviously. He might have a poor season.

But the odds are that he'll definitely take the Vikings back to the playoffs, and in January whom would you rather have...

Yeah, rhetorical question

Kudos to Allen, Lonngwell and Hutchinson for putting their "pride" aside and making that trip Monday night. They got a lot more out of the trip than some southern home cookin'.