Roger Federer is back to where he belongs – the beautiful Centre Court at Wimbledon where he created history by winning a record seventh title and in the process emulating the record of greats Pete Sampras and William Renshaw. He also returned to the number one position in the world equaling Sampras’ 286 weeks on the top. Roger now has 17 Grand Slam wins with Pete Samparas being the next with 14 slams. An emotional Federer said after the match – “It feels great being back here as the winner. It feels like it's never left me.”
By lifting the coveted cup, Fedex not only broke the heart of first-time finalist at Wimbledon Andy Murray, but also the heart of the British spectators who had come with the hope of perhaps seeing an Englishman lift the cup after years of endless wait. Andy Murray had become the first British man to reach the All England Club final since Henry Austin in 1938. And he was looking to be the first man to win the Wimbledon championship since Fred Perry in 1
936. But, to stop Fedex on Sunday was perhaps too tall a task for Murray in the end. Ironically, Roger’s last Grand Slam win and his 16th came at the Australian Open in 2010, where he had defeated Andy Murray in the final.
However, it was not the most auspicious start in the match for the Swiss superstar. Murray broke him in the first game of the match itself and the won the first set 6-4. But Federer came back in the next set and won 7-5. And then the rest two sets 6-3 and 6-4. Roger was not at his sublime best in this match with a host of unforced errors but what mattered in the end were the scoreline and the victory.
Federer is soon going to be 31. It is said that age is just a number and that can be true of any other profession, but not sports, especially tennis where when an athlete is approaching 30 he is considered past his prime. In that context, Roger’s win this time around is all the more remarkable. Also he is now only the second oldest man to be ranked number one in the world. Another exciting player Andre Agassi held the number one position when he was 33 in 2003.
Federer’s road to Sunday’s final was not an easy ride. On his way to the final he overcame a scare from Frenchman Julien Benneteau when Roger fought back two sets down to win the match 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-1 in the third round. Weak hearted can never be champs and Roger showed in this match just why. Without flinching and remaining calm which is his trademark, he steered the match into the fifth set and then raced to the finishing line thereafter. Roger said later on – “My God, it was brutal - A little luck on my side, who knows?” Yes, I guess along the path of creating history even great athletes need some luck to be their side. Nonetheless, the former world number one just took 92 minutes to finish off Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the quarter finals with a 6-1, 6-2, and 6-2 win.
In the semi-finals of the championship (which had been slated to be the final before the final) the six-time winner decimated the defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in two hours and 19 minutes and entered a record eighth final at the All England Club and his 24th Grand Slam final. The semi-final was perhaps not as thrilling as it was expected to be with Novak sparkling only in patches and Federer at his aggressive best after a long time. Djoker accepted as much after the match – “At important moments in the match he was aggressive.” Remember before this clash, the Serb had defeated the Swiss in six of their last seven meetings, including the 2012 French Open semi-final. No wonder after the match, a relieved Federer said – “I’m obviously ecstatic. I played a great match. It’s been a tough tournament for me.”
When Federer won his first Grand Slam singles title in 2003 at Wimbledon beating Mark Philippoussis, it must have been a special victory for him. But this win too will in all likelihood be amongst the top for him as it has come after a long wait.
An all time great of lawn tennis Rod Laver when asked why he thinks that Federer was an all time best said – “Roger’s got all the shots, his anticipation is unbelievable, his timing off the ground strokes, his single-handed backhand is one of the best there is.” On 8th July 2012, Federer sent a message out to the world as to why he is still a champ and why people should not be in a hurry to write him off and why Rod Laver thinks what he thinks.
This may be Roger’s last hurrah or he may have more steam left in him but all that is for posterity. What matters now is that one of the greatest players in the game of lawn tennis has created history – something which will be difficult to break even for the best.
Post Script: When Fedex will reach home like a gladiator after winning his 17th Grand Slam title, there is no guessing as to the reception that he will get by his new set of fans - his three year old twin daughters, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva…
(The views expressed by the author are personal)