Just in case you didn't believe your eyes when Roger Federer got to a ball behind the baseline last year at the U.S. Open against Novak Djokovic and hit it back between his legs for a winner, Federer repeated the feat in his first-round win over Brian Dabul in the feature match in Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday night.
The setting wasn't quite as dramatic, considering that last year's gem came with Federer two points away from winning his semifinal match, while this one came late in the second set of Federer's 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory. When asked which was more difficult, Federer smiled and said, "What do you think? I don't know. Last year's was a little more important.
"But in terms of difficulty, this one was harder in terms of distance. I was really back there. I didn't have time to set it up. When I turned around, I couldn't believe it was in the corner. The ovation was tremendous. I couldn't believe it."
Federer was practically to the wall behind his baseline when he caught up to the ball and whipped it back between his legs. Dabul was frozen in disbelief as the ball zipped low over the net down the line to his right for a perfect pass. When he heard the crowd, Federer exulted over the result, and there was no heading him off after that.
The second seed, who won five straight Opens before his upset loss to Juan Martin del Potro last year, ran his record to 16-0 under the Ashe Stadium lights. Pulling off the trick shot wasn't really a function of confidence as much as necessity, Federer said, but he added that it showed he was going to the net aggressively.
"I was playing offense, which is a good thing," Federer said. "He hit a good hustle ball. I liked that it was low when I got to it. I had good contact and perfect speed. By the time I turned around, it was on the other side of the court. I'm not sure if I even saw it bounce, but the crowd told me it was good."
Federer admitted he enjoys the fact there's a whole catalogue available on the internet of the great shots he's made over the years. That's what happens when you rack up a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles.
But he made a couple other trick shots recently that have provoked some skepticism among his peers. His recent Gillette commercial is a You Tube sensation. He's in a TV studio, where he asks a young man to stand balancing a can on his head. Federer moves about 25 feet away winds up and serves, knocking the can off the man's head. Then, he does it a second time with the camera behind the man so you can see the ball coming before it hits the can.
Andy Roddick and Kim Clijsters both said it couldn't be real and admitted they would be afraid to let the great Federer take aim just above their face. Asked if that was real or trick photography, Federer laughed and said, "They're not sure those guys.
"The only thing I can tell you is that the shot at center court in front of 22,000 people is a bit more difficult than the Gillette commercial. That was for fun. I can't tell you if it's real or not."
That answer begged the question of whether he could do the shot between his legs and knock the can off someone's head. "That's kind of tough with the trajectory going up," Federer laughed. "I feel like the nose and everything would be hit first. So, no."
There are limits to even Federer's skills.