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Best of Five: Dubai setback shows Federer's consistency on the fade


1. Faulty Federer falls. Both the gleeful Federer buriers and concerned Federer loyalists were out in full force this weekend. Their man dropped still another match to Novak Djokovic, a shank-o-rific Dubai final that saw Federer lose 6-3, 6-3. While Djokovic played stellar, complete tennis once again, Federer did himself no favors, framing shots, hitting destinationless backhands and finding few answers when Djokovic posed the difficult questions. Federer is now like a stock whose beta/variance is starting to widen. He's still capable of greatness -- that London win over Nadal wasn't even 100 days ago. Yet the dismal matches are becoming more common. Realistically, we knew the ride couldn't go on forever. And Federer's performance is in keeping with the life cycle of a champion. The consistency is the first thing to go. The old weaknesses, such as they are, start to surface. (In this case, the drive backhand.) There's still magic left in the wand, but it's not automatically discharged. I directed Federer fans to the 2002 U.S. Open in which Pete Sampras, struggling with his game and arriving with little momentum, found the touch for seven matches. I think that's pretty much what we're looking at for the rest of the journey. Know he's capable of greatness; know it's no longer a given.

2. Rivals new and old. Down the road in Doha, Vera Zvonareva beat top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to take the title. These two have played a half dozen times over the past year and their head-to-head record is 4-4. As we ponder this fledgling WTA rivalry, a full-fledged WTA rivalry flared up perhaps for the last time. In a Belgian television interview conducted in French, Justine Henin, unrecognizably candid, spoke on a great many subjects, including the infamous "hand gesture" match against Serena Williams in Paris eight (!) years ago. "If I had been convinced that she had seen it, had been bothered by it, I might have reacted. But you react on instinct. ... I don't know if that changed the match. I hope I'm not saying that in bad faith. Maybe it was a way to give me respect, because you know that Williams have an attitude, sometimes difficult. They play with a lot of intimidation. Know that the Williams had attitudes that were sometimes difficult. Today, it doesn't scare me any more." Serena's response via Twitter: "I keep hearing about admittance to someone cheating me & lying about it after at the French open? Did she confess finally?''

3. Delpo does it. Welcome back, Juan Martin del Potro. In what can only be hailed as good news for men's tennis, the Argentine won his first title since the 2009 U.S. Open, taking the trophy in Delray, crushing forehands, serving capably and generally looking like the player who was on the verge of shaking up the men's tennis world order 18 months ago. Provided JMDP stays healthy and confident, he will be quite an interesting player in the narrative this year. Ana Ivanovic, take note!

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4. ATP's worldly tour. The charitable argument: It speaks to ATP's nimble nature that as the top stars battled in the Middle East and the (mainly) American stars battled in south Florida, those players partial to clay court tennis fought it out in Acapulco. (David Ferrer beat countryman Nicolas Almagro in the final.) The less charitable argument: Is the product spread too thin when three events are being the held the same week on three continents? Middle argument: Should we not be giving more thought to the notion of regional tours?

5. Power tennis. The First Lady is teaming up with the USTA to help encourage young people across the country to get active. Michelle Obama is collaborating with Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf on a new public service announcement to air nationwide on CBS, ESPN and the Tennis Channel. Other components of the partnership include the construction and renovation of thousands of tennis courts across the country and the commitment to encourage 200,000 children to participate in the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award.