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24 Jul 2017 20:44
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  •   Home > News > Sports > Tennis

    Roger Federer's outrageous Wimbledon win marks his place in tennis and sporting history

    Roger Federer's career bio is so sublime that the only comparisons left are with the greats of other sports, writes Offsiders columnist Richard Hinds.

    It is quite possible there is something wrong with Roger Federer. Loud snorer? Lousy tipper? Doesn't turn his phone off at the movies?

    But as the greatest male tennis player of this or any era again suspended disbelief by winning a record eighth Wimbledon title one month before his 36th birthday with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Croatian Marin Cilic, nothing sprang to mind.

    This, as much as Federer's ornate game, is what continues to make the peerless Swiss a wonderfully refreshing presence in the often rancorous world of professional sport.

    Because Federer conducts himself in the same sublimely serene way he plays, we have appreciated his incredible talent, his historic achievements and now his unexpected renaissance without being sidetracked by the egocentric strutting and ostentatious trappings adopted by so many superstars.

    In the 14 years between Federer's first Wimbledon title and his eighth, nothing Federer has said or done off the court has been the source of more fascination than what he has done on it.

    This might be the only thing, outside his play, that makes him outrageous.

    Yet during the glorious encore that has so far taken in grand slam victories at Melbourne Park and Wimbledon, we have learnt something new about a player who has become as familiar as the net posts. The man with the velvet veneer is as tough as old leather.

    As Federer recently told ESPN Magazine, the Australian Open victory that started this lap of honour was as much an act of willpower as sheer ability.

    Trailing 1-3 in the fifth set against his nemesis Rafael Nadal, Federer felt heavy and deflated.

    Yet he summoned the mental and physical willpower to overcome the Spaniard in a moment that might be the most momentous in his career — quite something, given choosing Federer's greatest moment is like choosing Donald Trump's most inflammatory tweet.

    Age, injuries no barrier to Federer

    That victory was at the start of a tail-wagging season in which Federer has not merely eked out a few more titles, but played with the freedom and flourish that seemed permanently curtailed by knee and back injuries.

    This Wimbledon title was not the defiant act of some punch-drunk pug somehow grappling opponents into submission with ringcraft and bloody-minded desperation. Federer was at the very height of his powers, not losing a single set on his way to the podium.

    Only in the first few games did Cilic have a foothold in the final, and the green rug was pulled swiftly from beneath him.

    A drop shot that spun back toward the net like a Rory McIlroy wedge, a couple of backhands that would have left a dint in granite and the Croatian was left physically and emotionally broken.

    So much so that, regrettably, this Wimbledon final might be remembered by some as much for what Federer did to his opponent as the way he did it.

    The harrowing sight of Cilic sobbing in his chair midway through the second set was a reminder of the crushing pressure and expectation that Federer has handled with unusual equanimity throughout his career.

    As intriguing as Federer's physical rehabilitation is how he has maintained his motivation. He has two sets of twins to occupy his time and (as Bernie Tomic kindly reminded us) $500 million in earnings and endorsements, meaning material gains have long ceased to be a factor.

    You sense in the wide-eyed wonder Federer sometimes expresses about his own game, he now plays tennis for the same reason Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello — just to experience that sense of near perfection few will ever know.

    There were also a few still unbroken records to keep Federer interested.

    With his eighth Wimbledon title, he broke a tie between Pete Sampras and William Renshaw (the Englishman who won his seven titles when the courtesy car was a horse and coach).

    Roger's Wimbledon choice pays off

    In a sense, Federer cherry-picked this Wimbledon title.

    Ivan Lendl famously bypassed the 1990 French Open, a tournament he almost certainly would have won, to train on grass in Australia hoping to win Wimbledon. He lost in the semi-finals.

    Conversely, Federer bypassed a French Open where he would have almost certainly lost to conserve his energy for Wimbledon, where one after another his storied rivals, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, succumbed to injury and exhaustion.

    But no one has earnt the right to choose his tournaments like Federer, and no crowds could be more pleased to see greatness in their midst like those at Melbourne Park and Wimbledon this year.

    This has been the beauty and the wonder of Federer's career, the gradual — and now undeniable — realisation that what we are seeing is better than anything the game has seen.

    The inarguable statistical case is, if anything, exceeded by the anecdotal evidence. Over 14 years, from Wimbledon win number one in 2003 to Wimbledon win number eight in 2017 — and the 18 other grand slam titles between — a generation of fans has born witness to his excellence.

    The only relevant comparisons are now with superstars from other sports. And even then, the question is not whether the name Roger Federer belongs with Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Donald Bradman, Jack Nicklaus, Pele et al.

    Rather, it is which other great names belong beside his.

    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

     Other Tennis News
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     21 Jul: Kiwis whitewashed by Uzbekistan at Fed Cup
     20 Jul: Roger Federer the greatest-ever athlete across all sports after Wimbledon triumph
     19 Jul: NZ notch easy opening win at Fed Cup
     12 Jul: Rain halts Venus's Wimbledon doubles run
     11 Jul: Venus reaches Wimbledon quarter-finals
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