Eng­land Spin Out Sri Lanka in Galle

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - LIVE Christo­pher Clarey

Sri Lanka cap­tain Di­nesh Chandi­mal paid trib­ute Fri­day to an “out­stand­ing” Eng­land af­ter Moeen Ali spun the vis­i­tors to a com­mand­ing first Test vic­tory in Galle. Set a mam­moth 462 to win, sus­tained pres­sure from Ali, fel­low spin­ner Jack Leach and ag­gres­sive seam bowl­ing from Ben Stokes bun­dled out the hosts for 250 on day four. The 211-run vic­tory, Eng­land’s first Test win away from home in 13 matches, leaves Joe Root’s men 1-0 up in the three-match se­ries, with the sec­ond Test start­ing in Kandy on Wed­nes­day. BRIEF SCORES Eng­land 342 (Foakes 107, Dil­ruwan 5-75) and 322 for 6 dec (Jen­nings 146*, Stokes 62) beat Sri Lanka 203 (Mathews 52, Moeen 4-66) and 250 (Mathews 53, Moeen 4-71) by 211 runs It is 99 down, 10 to go for Roger Fed­erer, which is, of course, only one way of look­ing at things at this late stage in the Fed­erer game.

He has chased only a few ten­nis records with gen­uine in­tent, in­clud­ing the men’s mark for Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles, which Pete Sam­pras once held with 14 and which Fed­erer now owns with 20.

But Jimmy Con­nors’s Open-era men’s record of 109 ti­tles has hardly been Fed­erer’s white whale, some ca­reer-long ob­ses­sion that has kept him up nights or in­spired him to do a round of ex­tra sprints in Dubai, United Arab Emi­rates, with the fit­ness coach Pierre Pa­ganini. “Ei­ther it hap­pens or it doesn’t,” he told Ger­many’s Ten­nis Magazin this year, re­fer­ring to the 109. “If that was re­ally my ul­ti­mate goal, I would play a lot more smaller tour­na­ments and in ex­treme cases, skip all the Mas­ters 1000s and play just 250s and 500s.”

Early in his ca­reer, Fed­erer al­ready was sound­ing blasé about ten­nis math.

“There are a lot of num­bers,” Fed­erer said in an in­ter­view af­ter win­ning the United States Open in 2005 when pre­sented with some of his al­ready-flashy statis­tics.

But that does not mean Con­nors’s 109 is not a wor­thy tar­get. “It just shows you how good Con­nors was for so long and how much of a great com­peti­tor he was,” said Dar­ren Cahill, the ESPN an­a­lyst who coached the for­mer men’s No. 1 An­dre Agassi and now coaches the women’s No. 1, Simona Halep.

For now, with the ATP Fi­nals about to be­gin in Lon­don on Sun­day, Con­nors’s record is vis­i­ble on the hori­zon, but hardly close enough to touch for Fed­erer. Ten more ti­tles is a big task at age 37 with a lim­ited tour­na­ment sched­ule, and there are plenty of other ob­sta­cles be­yond his di­rect con­trol.

No­vakDjokovi­cis­back­atNo.1and­con­tin­ues to­havethe­up­per­han­dasheshowed­by­beat­ing Fed­er­erforthe­fourth­straight­time­by­win­ning a taut, three-set semi­fi­nal at the Paris Mas­ters on Satur­day. Although the new gen­er­a­tion of play­ers has yet to win a ma­jor sin­gles ti­tle, the young­ster­sare­making­in­road­selse­where­with Alexan­der Zverev, 21, and Karen Khachanov, 22,win­ningMaster­s1000ti­tlesin2018and­with Borna Coric, 21, beat­ing Fed­erer twice.

Itwillon­lyget harder for Fed­erer tore­ach the fin­ish lines, but he, like Con­nors, is an ex­cep­tional ta­lent with ex­cep­tional foot­work and stay­ing power, and, for the mo­ment, they have a strik­ingly sim­i­lar gap be­tween their first and last tour ti­tles.

Con­nor­swon­his­firstin1972in­Jack­sonville, Fla., at age 19 and his last in 1989 at 37 in Tel Aviv. Fed­erer won his first in Mi­lan in 2001 at age 19 and his most re­cent in Basel at 37 at last month’s Swiss In­doors. “For me, if they’re chas­ing me and my ac­com­plish­ments then what else could I ask for?” Con­nors said re­cently. “Would I like 109 to live for­ever? Sure, why wouldn’t I? I’d be crazy not to.”

At this stage, Fed­erer would be de­lighted sim­ply­to­getto100,which­would­make­himthesec­ond man in the 50-year Open era to reach triple fig­ures in sin­gles ti­tles.

Three women have done it: St­effi Graf with 107, Chris Evert with 157 and Martina Navratilo­vaw­ith167.Evert’sandNavratilova’s gar­gan­tuan to­tals are a re­flec­tion of just how long they dom­i­nated and how many tour­na­ments they played each year.

Fed­erer is pick­ing his spots, and if he is go­ing to keep heav­ily pri­or­i­tiz­ing the most pres­ti­gious events — the Grand Slam tour­na­ments and Mas­ters 1000s — and add only his home­town tour­na­ment in Basel and a smat­ter­ing of lower-level grass-court tour­na­ments on the side, then the odds of reach­ing 109 lengthen.

Fed­erer won seven ti­tles in his dreamy 2017 come­back­sea­son.He­has­won­fourthisyear,in­clud­ing the Aus­tralian Open, in what has been a less con­sis­tently tran­scen­dent cam­paign.

To match Con­nors, Fed­erer would need two more sim­i­larly pro­duc­tive sea­sons if he were to play through 2020: a rea­son­able as­sump­tion with the Olympics in Tokyo that year and the Olympic gold medal in sin­gles the only ma­jor ten­nis prize Fed­erer lacks.

It has taken Fed­erer longer to hit cruis­ing speed­inthesec­ond­hal­fof2018,per­hapsin­part be­cause of a hand in­jury. His most en­cour­ag­ing re­cent per­for­mance was in de­feat against Djokovic in Paris, where he saved all 12 break points he faced be­fore los­ing his way in the de­ci­sive third-set tiebreaker. He was deft at the ne­tand­able­to­con­sis­tent­lypro­duce­clean­back­hand drives de­spite main­tain­ing his po­si­tion very tight to the base­line.

It’ll take more of the same to win No. 100 against Djokovic and the rest of the elite eight in Lon­don, much more of the same to catch Con­nors with Fed­erer’s bi­o­log­i­cal clock tick­ing, tick­ing.

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