“And I’m happy I kept on dreaming and believing…”
That’s how Roger Federer described his arduous journey back from a career jarring series of injuries he suffered last year. Talk about the ultimate optimist. More than being an optimist, Federer has once again proven himself to be the consummate champion. A man who can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.
It does feel like a dream. Roger Federer is your 2017 Wimbledon Champion. I’ll let that sink in for a bit. The first time Federer lifted the trophy at the All England Club, the Nokia 1100 was the best selling phone that year. That was 2003.
Fourteen years ago.
With this year’s Wimbledon title, Federer moves into a stratosphere no other male champion has ever had the privilege of stepping into – not in the amateur or open era. He stands alone as the true king of Wimbledon, with eight titles to his name. Pete Sampras and William Renshaw are second on the list now, with seven apiece. What is truly remarkable is not just the victory, but how he did it.
This Wimbledon victory marks the second time Federer has won a grand slam without dropping a set. The other was at the Australian Open in 2007. A ten-year gap. In the commentary booth, Patrick McEnroe stated that he can never say with any confidence when Federer will stop winning grand slam titles. That’s how many times Federer has silenced analysts, critics, pundits, and even naysayers. As long as he’s playing, you have to consider him a threat to keep adding to his tally. He’s that good.
That being said, Federer’s lopsided score of 6 – 3, 6 – 1, 6 – 4 was not expected. Cilic is a grand slam champion and had been playing the tennis of his life to get to the final. Many expected the big serving Croat to at least take a set off of the former seven-time champion. Federer didn’t help matters by starting of serving a bit nervously. However, after fighting off what would be the only break point he’d face in today’s contest, Federer as he so often does, went into cruise control. Cilic? The Croat capitulated.
It has been said so often, that Federer more than any other member of the big four has the ability to neutralize a big server’s serve and power and reduce their effectiveness to frustrating lows. I believe his return is even more underrated than his serve. Particularly on grass, where he can naturally block the ball back deep or short and still keep it low. How many times in the past had we seen Federer do this to Roddick, Ancic, and Philippoussis? Once Federer began to draw a good beat on the Cilic serve, it was circa 2003 in the semis, once again.
A frustrated Cilic began to mistime his shots. By the end of the first set – won 6 – 3 by Roger – the man who was averaging 25 aces per match, had a sum total of zero aces to his name. The second set started horribly and Cilic was quickly down 0 – 3. That’s when the floodgates opened. During the changeover after the third game, Cilic broke down on court, visibly sobbing uncontrollably. While we now know he was nursing some sort of left ankle injury, it is not clear when he picked this up or if he’d been nursing it for a few matches. Whatever the case, that injury coupled with Federer’s terrific play compounded Cilic’s problems. Federer would close out the second set, 6 – 1.
At the start of the third, and after a spell with the courtside trainer, Cilic’s intensity spiked and it appeared Federer’s focus deserted him ever so slightly. Still, Federer held his nerve on serve and bid his time. John McEnroe joked at the beginning of the third set that Cilic would mount the greatest comeback in history. I hope he was joking. The result was never in doubt as Federer dialed in to get one more break, before closing out the match with his 8th ace of the day. How apt for it to be the 8th.
As I stated in yesterday’s article, history has been made today. The dust among the blades of grass has been stirred up and they won’t come down for quite some time. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe a few months. Roger Federer leaves Wimbledon as its only male eight-time champion. He also bunts the great Arthur Ashe to number two and occupies the top position as Wimbledon’s oldest champion. When did growing old become so cool? He leads the tour in tournament wins with five titles and is a sizzling 31 – 2 over the first six plus months of the year. More importantly, Roger Federer is now a 19-time grand slam champion. In the combined (men and women) all time list, he leaves the duo of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert at number 5 with 18 grand slam singles titles and moves into number 4, sharing that spot with Helen Wills Moody. Only Margaret Court, Serena Williams and Steffi Graff have more.
Can he catch them? As long as he keeps dreaming and believing, anything’s possible.