AS if trying to remind himself and everyone else where he's been and where he's quite certain he'll return, Roger Federer thrust his right fist overhead and pointed skyward with his index finger.
The universal gesture for No. 1.
Roger Federer shouts after a point against Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic during their match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament at Flushing Meadows in New York, August 31, 2008. [Xinhua]
As Federer made that signal, the 1970s song "Still the One" by Orleans rang out through Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday, marking the end of the four-time defending champion's 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory over 28th-seeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in the US Open's third round.
Actually, for the first time in a while, Federer is not No. 1 -- in the seedings for the hard-court Grand Slam tournament or in the ATP rankings. Those honors belong to Rafael Nadal, who beat Federer in the lopsided French Open and epic Wimbledon finals and last week ended his record 237-week stay at the top.
Federer harbors no doubts that he can re-establish his ranking and his reputation among opponents, both built on the strength of 12 career major singles titles, two shy of Pete Sampras' career record.