Sports

Why 2017 Wimbledon is Federer’s sweetest win

What has made this startling late renaissance – confirmed with his straight-set victory over a woebegone Marin Cilic – arguably sweeter still than even those glory days is the doubt.

Doubt that he could ever be what he was. Doubt that five years without a Wimbledon title, having once held such dominance that he won five in a row, could be an interregnum rather than the end. Doubt that six months off after his semi-final defeat a year ago, by a man a decade younger wasn’t the thin end of retirement in disguise.

You watched Federer last year and beyond to be reminded in little passages of what he used to be able to do, and to say that you had seen him doing it. The pleasure of those little living flashbacks came with the melancholic sense that they were the past rather than the present, and that the future would see gentle decay eat away a little more with each year.

You loved Peak Federer because he could control a court and find shots and angles that you could barely imagine. And then slowly he became more like you in ways you didn’t want: hurting his knee running a bath for his kids, falling face down on the court in futile chase of a Milos Raonic forehand, hair that had once been a ponytail and then bushy starting to creep back like the grass on the Centre Court baseline. When he switched to a bigger racquet in 2014, it was like seeing a flying ace reaching for reading glasses.

The decline was long and it was true. After his impregnability was shattered by Rafa Nadal in 2008, two more Wimbledon titles came – but they sandwiched two quarter-finals defeats and were succeeded by second-round humiliation to a man ranked 116 in the world.

He could cast magic in hot bursts, pulling Andy Murray apart in the semi-final two years ago, but the spell would not hold, as a dead-eyed dismantling by Novak Djokovic followed in the final.

At the start of this year, the doubt was everywhere but in his own mind. First came that astonishing Australian Open final against Nadal in January, when it felt like the Beatles reforming for a one-off gig in 1979, and now this: not a greatest hits tour, but a fresh wonder; not a faded version of a better past, but history remade again.

He is the first man in tennis history to reach the final of a single Grand Slam 11 times, and the first man at Wimbledon to win eight singles titles. He has a 19th Grand Slam title, four more than his old nemesis Nadal, seven more than Djokovic, victor in his previous two Wimbledon finals.

And he has done it as he did it a tennis lifetime ago: reducing opponents to the role of stooge, their presence on some shots merely to help the composition of the image; footwork that should be frantic to get him anywhere near position, instead taking him there unhurried and unflustered, as if stepping through a loop in time; seeing angles and then making them in a way that would be impressive enough in snooker, computed while ruminatively rubbing chalk on cue tip, let alone sprinting while appearing not to be sprinting.

Beautiful to his acolytes, it is also horribly cruel on the men he plays. In his semi-final win over Tomas Berdych, he hit a squash-style forehand pass cross-court that left his opponent, who had played the ideal approach shot and was standing exactly where he should have been at the net, redundant and humiliated.

It came in the 10th game of the final set, break of serve already secured, in a game he did not care about winning.

On Centre Court on days like this, the relationship makes better sense. In an arena that combines 1920s design with a 21st-century roof, Federer is both an aesthetic throwback, unfurling that one-handed backhand, serve-volleying when he chooses, and a man at ease in a digital world, his 7.6 million Twitter followers 70 times that of Cilic.

Fortune has come his way in the last few weeks. This was the first time in almost eight years that he hadn’t had to play one of the other Big Four en route to a Slam final.

But there was conviction again too, with the narrative of the whole fortnight turning on the prospect of him doing it all again, once it was clear that there would be no hoorays about Murray’s hip and that the Konta wave would crash against another great old champion.

“At times I thought I was dreaming,” said the round-cheeked teenage Federer when he beat Pete Sampras, who had won the previous four titles, in the fourth round here in 2001.

That is what it felt like again on Sunday, watching him lift the old gold pot to the dark green stands 16 years on, born-again believers all around, Centre Court his once more.

 


DID YOU KNOW?

  1. All of Sunshine Stars’ goals since the appointment of Duke Udi as head coach have come in the second half of matches.
  2. MFM FC has now scored the first goal in 17 games   through Odey’s 17th goal of the season – outright record for club and player.
  3. Tony Okpotu has now scored 13 goals this term, one more goal than his total tally in the whole of last season.
  4. Only FC Ifeanyiubah (12) have been awarded more   penalty kicks than Niger Tornadoes this season.
  5. Enyimba Int’l are the only unbeaten team in #NPFL oriental derbies this season {P4 W3 D1 L0}.
  6. The team playing at home has won each of the last 13 #NPFL matches between Enyimba Int’l and Niger Tornadoes.
  7. Plateau United recorded their first ever #NPFL victory against Akwa United having previously gone 3 games without a win.
  8. Sunshine Stars became the 10th #NPFL team to record an away wins this season.
  9. Wikki Tourists have ended a run of five #NPFL matches without a defeat for Kano Pillars.
  10. Shooting Stars are now unbeaten in four consecutive #NPFL matches (2W, 2D) against Rangers Int’l.
  11. Abu Azeez scored in an away #NPFL match after exactly 2 years since he last achieved the feat (3sc 2-1 WARRI WOLVES).
  12. ABS FC conceded 3+ goals in a home #NPFL match for the first time since March 2013 (2-3 vs Kano Pillars).
  13. Ibrahim Mustapha has now provided 6 assists this term, at least four more than any other Enyimba Int’l player; Chinonso Okonkwo has now scored three goals in three #NPFL appearances for Enyimba Int’l.
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