No doubt about Federer

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Can anyone name the best hockey player in the world without some kind of debate?

Best baseball player? Best football player? Best basketball player?

Best soccer player who doesn't head-butt?

Roger Federer makes it easy, and sometimes he makes it look easy. There is no question with him. He eliminates debate.

He is the best tennis player in the world. Point and match.

He is the dominant figure in a sport where the names of the contenders forever change, but not the name of the champion.

Lleyton Hewitt tried before he fell off the map. Andy Roddick was supposed to play the part of the foil. But Federer so exposed Roddick that the American now needs to Google himself to find his game. Rafael Nadal is the flavour of the month, but who knows how long the flavour lasts?

After that, tennis has troubles.

According to its own confounded computer, the names of its top 10 players include David Nalbandian and James Blake and Ivan Ljubicic and Nikolay Davydenko and Tommy Robredo -- most of whom would not be household names in their own homes.

If they ever did matter, Federer's Swiss precision has rendered most of them unimportant. He eliminates his opponents and their credibility. Ivan Lendl shows up at the Canadian Open and is a larger celebrity than almost anyone playing.

That's good for Lendl. Not for tennis.

Federer should be the one breakout athlete in the game, but he is still waiting for a complete worldwide breakout.

He is more complete than Bjorn Borg, more skilled than John McEnroe, more competitive than Jimmy Connors, more interesting than Pete Sampras. And yet, those of us caught up in this small-minded North American prism don't necessarily welcome him as an athlete who transcends his sport.

His record shows he should transcend his sport, but the fact that he is not, ahem, American, means he doesn't get complete exposure in the land of the free, the brave and the xenophobic.

But shouldn't he be the largest star in sports if he happens to be most dominant?

He is infinitely more human than Tiger Woods, more precise, more likable, more honest, less robotic, seemingly enjoying his place as a tennis player for the ages.

Some athletes come to loathe the spotlight. He has accepted his role and doesn't hide from it in any way and he remains appreciative and humble all at the same time.

In any of the six languages he happens to speak.

"I'm very happy to hear that people compare me with Tiger and other people," Federer said, after a rather workmanlike, matter-of-fact 6-3, 6-3 victory over Sebastien Grosjean at the Rexall Centre yesterday.

There was never a moment in the match, hardly even a volley, where there was any kind of question about the outcome. Most of the time, most of his career, Federer eliminates doubt.

You watch him -- even yesterday, when he wasn't terrific -- and he does things that belie physics. He makes the impossible seem possible. And he does so much of it with an unexplainable ease.

UNALTERED LEGACY

He can do that in the final of a Grand Slam tournament or on centre court at the Rexall Centre on the campus of York University in a Rogers Cup tournament that will not alter his legacy in any way.

"I know what I'm doing is not the usual thing, only losing four, maybe a maximum 10 to 15 matches a year," Federer said.

This year his record is 57 wins, four losses. That's three Cy Young seasons in one.

"I'm very aware what I'm doing," he said. "It is, of course, a pity to see other players kind of fading away, coming back, not being able to play consistent ... It's not so easy to make the final every week, like what Nadal and myself have been able to do over the last one and a half years ..."

And still, there are goals ahead for a kid who happens to be a year younger than the forever developing Nik Antropov. That's what he tend to forget about Federer. He just turned 25. This could just be the beginning.

"I guess (I want to be) the one with the most Grand Slams," he said. "Because that's where you probably are measured at the end of your career. Of course, it would be nice to have the longest No. 1 in the world or the most titles. I think one of those three is definitely very special."


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