Vintage Federer in seventh heaven

Mon, Jul 9, 2012, 01:00

TENNIS:GREAT CHAMPIONS find a way. They rail against the imperfections of sport, where fortune, good and bad, occasionally intervene to test their mental equilibrium. They are often defined by their actions in adversity, where the solution, not the problem, is what occupies them.

Roger Federer displayed that aptitude in winning a seventh Wimbledon singles title with a four set, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, victory over Andy Murray at the All England Club. It wasn’t a flawless performance initially but it certainly broached levels of rare vintage in the last two sets.

He overcame nerves in the opening throes of the contest, the setback of losing the first set, the frustration of making more unforced errors in a set and a half than he would in a tournament, and still engineered victory to claim his 17th Grand Slam title.

Fred Perry continues not only to be a clothing label but the last British tennis player to win Wimbledon, a victory that dates back to 1936, but Murray produced a fine performance in his first Wimbledon and fourth Grand Slam Final: three of them he’s lost to the Swiss player, including the last occasion that Federer won, two and a half years ago at the 2010 Australian Open.

Murray had never won a set in a Slam final, a statistic he expunged but he could not quite exorcise the ghost of Perry. His gallantry in defeat will have won him a host of new admirers as will the gracious manner in which he accepted it; a painful and difficult process for an emotional and tearful Scot in the aftermath.

“I mean, I’d be playing I guess probably the wrong sport if I wasn’t emotional. I mean, I thought I played a pretty good match. There were a lot of close shots, a lot of close games and a lot of breakpoints here and there. He played very, very well the last two sets especially. When the roof closed, he played unbelievable tennis.”

There was a great deal of conjecture about the impact that closing the roof – the heavens opened and the players were forced off for 40 minutes – would have with the match delicately poised at one set apiece, one game all and 40-0 love on the Federer serve. The last time the Swiss player lost a match indoors was in 2010.

He admitted he changed his tactics on the resumption: “I tried to play more aggressively. Obviously it was windy (with it open) in the first two sets. There was a sort of downwind from the right hand side of the umpire’s chair which makes you play more with the elements that tactically. With the wind gone I got back to tactics.

I tried to take it more to Andy and I was able to do that. I went to fetch victory more than he did. I’m happy that closing the roof maybe helped me because I wasn’t sure if it was going to.”

There’s no doubt that Federer’s ball striking improved; he had more zip on his ground-strokes and served with greater precision. He was a more authoritative figure on the resumption.

Up to that point the Swiss player lost a set he should have won and Murray did likewise in the second. There is no doubting the seminal moment of the contest; the sixth game of the third set. It was a 20-minute tussle that veered one way then another. Murray led 40-0 on serve but was pegged back to deuce. Murray had four game points, Federer five break points on the sixth, he struck decisively.

He closed out the set struck again to break in the fifth game of the fourth set. Federer was playing beautifully but to his credit Murray fended off several break points in subsequent games to make his opponent serve for the match.

Federer by numbers simply adds to the legend and brooks no argument about the greatest tennis player in history. He equals the seven singles titles his hero, Pete Sampras, won at the All England club in a record eighth final. In doing so reclaimed the world number one ranking for a 286th week in his career to date, exactly matching the American. The list of his accomplishments and records would fill a supplement.

He said of his achievement: “You never quite get used to it. Today was unique because of playing Andy. Finishing a match under the roof has never been done before so that’s different and nice. I know the occasion and how big it was for Andy and myself. I am happy I got the victory; it was very, very special.

“There was so much on the line that I didn’t try and think of the world number one ranking or the seventh (Wimbledon) and 17th (Grand Slam). I think it will take me longer to understand what I achieved today.

“I just had to believe that things were going to turn around for me, and not just naturally but work at something. I played a lot of tennis, good tennis but I wanted to win titles, not just lose in the quarters and semis (at tournaments).”

Federer explained that he had received from high profile, in terms of the sporting world, encouragement over the last few days: Tiger Woods.

“I got one (message) from him. He was very supportive, pumped up on my behalf. It’s nice to know that other greats believe in me. They push me further even in the rain delay when they cheer you on.”

The Swiss maestro had a word for Murray: “I really do believe deep down that he will win Grand Slams; not just one. I genuinely wish him all the best. He works extremely hard and is as professional at you can be. Things just didn’t quite turn out for him in the finals but he got a step closer to a Grand Slam. I believe and hope that he will win one soon.”

For now though . . . the king is dead. Long live the king.

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