For the second time in three years Roger Federer crossed paths with Andy Murray in a Grand Slam final. And, for the second time in three years, he left Murray shaken and in tears. At Wimbledon on Sunday, with Murray struggling to keep his composure during the presentation ceremony, his supporters kept the applause flowing for their man; not only beca-use he had played his heart out in his first Wimbledon final, but that he had been beaten by Federer, who was, as Murray said, “Not bad for a 30-year-old.” In fact, after the win, there was more than just grudging respect for Federer who won his first Grand Slam on this very turf in 2003. He was then a temperamental talent, who had come of age. On Sunday, he was the timeless champion.
But even as statisticians went looking for more figures to describe Federer’s achievements, not many still consider him the sport’s greatest competitor. His enormous will for a battle remains hidden under those smooth strokes and the only proof of physicality remains in how well he has preserved his body. Before Sunday, Federer had gone for more than two years without a Grand Slam — the last time he won was the 2010 Australian Open, where he had beaten Murray in the final. With his Slam count (16) already a record then, and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic blowing holes in his empire, Federer’s art, sometimes too fragile for the baseline bashers, could have died a natural death.
But the Swiss showed remarkable fortitude, first in bringing in a coach, Paul Annacone, who knew all about ageing champions, then beefing up his game for the new-age warriors while still retrieving that attacking edge in his strokes. After spending more than two years in the shadow of Nadal and Djokovic, Federer, has once again regained the top slot in men’s tennis. He is now the second oldest man to be ranked No 1 after Andre Agassi, at the age of 33 in 2003. “Don’t ever say Roger Federer does not fight,” Nadal had written in his autobiography. Federer at 30 is still fighting. Now he only has history to contend with.