Federer lights the way for troubled tennis

The shining beacon of another year of excellence from record-breaking Roger Federer lit up what has been a murky tennis landscape in 2007.

updated: December 28, 2007 15:51 IST
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The shining beacon of another year of excellence from record-breaking Roger Federer lit up what has been a murky tennis landscape in 2007.

The superb Swiss completed the season with a fourth title victory from five editions of the Masters Cup, crushing Spain's breakout player David Ferrer in a straight-sets master class in Shanghai.

The world number one, whose reign at the top of the table passed the 200-week mark late last month, again claimed three of the four Grand Slams, lifted eight trophies and compiled an untouchable 68-9 record.

His goal for 2008 will be to finally get over the top and claim a French Open title for the first time in his career.

He also stands just two titles away from the all-time best of 14 majors achieved by Pete Sampras, a goal that could also be obtained over the next 12 months.

Federer achieved almost everything in tennis this year - and set a money mark with $10 million banked in prizes alone - while proving to be the best role model possible as he simultaneously pleased and delighted fans, sponsors and the sanctioning ATP.

But the same cannot be said for some of the rest of a sport fighting a fresh image problem after revelations of possible match-fixing dramas, which began leaking over the summer.

The highest-profile player to be caught up in the web of innuendo, claims and counter claims was number four Nikolay Davydenko.

The Russian and his attorneys are currently contesting charges that he gave away a match during August in Poland as Argentine outsider Martin Vassallo-Arguello beat him when Davydenko quit injured.

Repercussions began after online agency Betfair failed to pay out on $7 million in bets on what it considered to be the irregular match.

The ATP has poured resources into the anti-corruption battle, hiring turf-racing British investigators as well as former Scotland Yard sleuths to get to the bottom of the crisis, which could cost tennis its credibility.

As a show of force in the war against player online betting, Italian Alessio di Mauro was suspended for nine months for betting on 120 matches - none of his own - and hammered with a $60,000 fine.

ATP boss Etienne de Villiers, egg on his face from last spring's debacle with a tournament round-robin format which was quickly abandoned - laid down a rule that any player approached to throw a match must advise the ATP of the situation within 48 hours.

The squeaky-clean Federer stands well above that fray, as does number two Rafael Nadal.

"To bet on tennis as a player is not right," said Federer. "You should be fined or banned. How long? That's up to other people, but I think we should be very hard on these people.

"Fans can bet, but it should not happen on the inside world of tennis. This is the problem that we have."

Davydenko may be excused for suffering with a persecution complex after he was fined $2,000 later rescinded on appeal - for "not trying" during an autumn match in St Petersburg and was later hectored by a chair umpire in Paris for producing too many double faults.

Away from the drama, the two-way battle at the summit between Federer and Nadal may become a three-horse race in 2008 as Serb Novak Djokovic consolidates his breakthrough.

The 20-year-old, who reached the US Open final after semi-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, will need to work on fitness after a slow fade in the closing stage of a long season.

Women's world number one Justine Henin ended 2007 with a run of confidence after missing the Australian Open due to the breakup of her marriage.

The battling Belgian won US Open and French Open titles among ten she lifted.

The chasing pack fell farther behind, but Maria Sharapova showed signs of optimism with a season-ending WTA final in Madrid as her long battle with shoulder problems took a positive turn.

Five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis bowed out in depressing circumstances, victim of what she says is a mistaken positive drug test for cocaine.

The 27-year-old Swiss, who has the full backing of Federer and women's legend Billie Jean King, will presumably spend much of 2008 fighting the charges after retiring in November due to the crisis.

Davydenko may offer the only long-odds ray of hope for the men chasing the hyper-fit and motivated Federer.

"He's 26, next year, 27," said the Russian, only half-optimistically. "Maybe he's more tired for the next year, and is losing concentration.

"Everybody is waiting for that."