NEW YORK -- Imagine if it'd been you out there, instead of James Blake.
Would you continue to play? Would you believe you have a chance to win? Why?
Imagine if you had chosen this sport as your profession, your life dream, and in order to both find and fulfill your life's professional destiny you had to go through him. This dude. Not the best that ever was necessarily -- but the most dominant that ever was.
We're at the point now that it's no longer a question as much as it is an affirmation. Is he, Roger Federer, the Michael Jordan of tennis? The Muhammad Ali? The Babe Ruth? The Wayne Gretzky? The Jim Brown? The Lance Armstrong? The Tiger Woods?
Is he not only the best, but more importantly, that much better than everyone else playing during his era?
By beating Blake, by reaching the U.S. Open semis, by doing so without looking brilliant but still looking unbeatable, Federer's reached that point in his career -- win or lose this tournament -- where the expectation is of separation and dominance, not just victories. He wins even if he loses, because it's no longer about anyone being able to beat him. It's believed that only he can beat himself, and hardly any credit is given to those who find themselves on the winning end of a match against him.
It's only happened five times this year 128 out of 591 times over the last eight years.
In other words, Federer has reached the point where he's taken the fun out of beating him. Because players that do so know it has nothing to do with them. It's him who allowed them to win.
Which brings us back to the original question: If this was what you did -- play tennis for a living -- would you want to play him?
Think about it.
And if your answer is yes, would you simply be playing yourself?
But, someone has to do it.
Nikolay Davydenko on Saturday. Andy Roddick or Mikhail Youzhny on Sunday.
But do they really want to? Really?
Like this one woman said in the food court outside Louis Armstrong Stadium after Federer blanked Blake in the second set Thursday night: "Don't you think Roddick and Youzhny are watching this and saying, 'Do I really want to win to have to play him? What's the freakin' point?'"
Which is what Tiger Woods has been going through for 10 years -- MJ for damn near the entire 14 years he balled.
Now it seems to be Roger's turn. At least right now. Which is why, in every place from the New York Times to the media interview room here at the U.S. Open, the subject of him being the God of this sport has come up.
The Fear and Loathing of Being Roger Federer the fear and loathing of having to play him.
How do you feel when you are compared to Tiger Woods?
Are you flattered?
Tiger Woods just won his fifth tournament in a row. Can you comprehend better than some what it takes to be so consistent?
Did you follow Lance Armstrong's run? If so, what quality of his incredible performances do you identify with?
Do you feel there's a parallel between you and Tiger Woods? What do you think the two of you share in common the most?
The questions are even getting asked to other players -- players that have to face him.
To Andy Roddick: "There are some comparisons being drawn recently with Roger and Tiger Woods. How do you assess their respective dominance in each of their sports?"
How sadistic is that?
James Blake might have put it best after his loss to Federer on Thursday night.
To paraphrase: I keep hearing people saying that Tiger Woods is the next Michael Jordan. That's a joke. That mantle belongs to [Roger].
If this was your life, would you look forward to stepping on the court to face a man who has now been placed in the echelon of sports that is beyond greatness? A man who is flirting with something else?
Would you take it like a man, like the other 463 victims have over his career? Or would you be like Michael Spinks when he got in the ring with Tyson? Like Brad Lidge the last time he faced Pujols? Like offensive coordinators when Deion played cornerback? Like entire teams in the playoffs when they had to face Jordan?
As Roger Twibell said before the match: "Beating [Federer] is the hardest thing to do in tennis."
Hard, but not impossible. Right? Right???
"I'm the favorite to win," Federer said about his chance to repeat this weekend. "But you know what can happen to favorites "
Which means he's playing not to lose his crown, or his newly earned place in history. He's playing to be Tiger.
OK so now imagine it's you out there instead of Davydenko on Saturday.
Look across the net. Look at who is about to serve. Look what you've gotten yourself into. Now ask yourself:
Scoop Jackson is a national columnist for Page 2 and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. He has a weekly segment on "Cold Pizza" and is a regular forum guest on "Rome Is Burning." He resides in Chicago. Sound off to Scoop and Page 2 here.