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Bad boy to elder statesman, Federer joins legends of sport

Roger Federer joined the legion of sporting legends, his name sitting comfortably alongside Ali, Woods, Senna, Pele, Bradman, where just one name is enough to confer instant respect.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2009 21:16 IST

Roger Federer joined the legion of sporting legends on Sunday, his name sitting comfortably alongside Ali, Woods, Senna, Pele, Bradman, where just one name is enough to confer instant respect.

His victory over Robin Soderling took the universally-popular Swiss level with his great friend Pete Sampras as the winner of 14 majors.

But Federer also achieved something that eluded even Sampras as well as John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg - a career Grand Slam, only the sixth man in history to achieve the feat.

The 27-year-old, with close to 50 million dollars earned from his superlative career, has not only taken the game to a new level, but also his approach to his trade, both on and off the court.

Gracious in both victory and defeat, respectful to the game's history and immensely media-friendly with his press conferences patiently carried out in English, French and Swiss-German, all delivered pitch-perfect.

When people are lost for words, occasionally they've been forced to adopt other means of recognising the great man - after his breakthough 2003 Wimbledon triumph, the people of Gstaad honoured him by presenting him with a cow.

But when the young Federer, who announced himself as the Wimbledon junior champion in 1998 and the winner of the prestigious Orange Bowl, started out on his road to fame, he wasn't winning popularity contests.

"I used to bitch a lot at line calls. I used to carry on like an idiot," said Federer.

Slowly, steadily he matured under the guidance of respected coaches Peter Lundgren and Australian Peter Carter, whose eventual death in a car crash hit Federer hard, altering his perspective on life and career.

In 2001, in Milan, he won the first of his 59 titles before beating seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras at the All England Club in a stunning last 16 triumph.

But one year later, the vulnerable, undeveloped side of Federer was still there for all to see when, tipped as the tournament favourite, he suffered a humiliating first round loss on Centre Court to Mario Ancic.

He set to work on improving all aspects of his game, with defence and consistency just as important as flamboyant attack.

"People used to tell me how easy I made it look, so I kind of felt I had to live up to this and play miracle shots, the crowd-pleasing stuff," he said.

"But I decided what I wanted was to win the match, not hit the best shot of the tournament. That was a big step for me mentally."

One year later, Federer beat Mark Philippoussis in the Wimbledon final for his first Grand Slam title, and he was on his way.

Four more Wimbledon trophies have followed, as have five US Opens and three Australian Open titles.

Until this year the French Open had always eluded him.

In three successive finals between 2006 and 2008, he came up short against Rafael Nadal.

Frustratringly, Nadal even took his beloved Wimbledon crown in a classic five-set 2008 final, hailed instantly as the greatest Grand Slam final of all time.

But Soderling's defeat of the great Spaniard turned Roland Garros 2009 upside down and Federer seized his chance.

"Roger deserves the Grand Slam more than I did," said Andre Agassi, the last man to complete the sweep here in 1999.

"He is extraordinarily talented, and the grace and the way he plays is very special to see. If it wasn't for a freak of nature from Majorca, he could have won this many times."

First Published: Jun 07, 2009 21:13 IST