If Roger Federer weren’t already godlike, he sure is now.
Just look at the records: eight Wimbledon titles, 19 Grand Slam victories and playing tennis so well at the age of 35 that even he thinks he could still be competing here at 40.
Federer made it look all too easy on Sunday, claiming his latest Wimbledon crown by manhandling a hobbled Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in less than two hours. Fittingly, he finished the match with an ace as his wife and four children – two sets of twins – looked on.
The victory capped a remarkable run for Federer. He didn’t lose a single set during the tournament and looked fitter than ever as rivals Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were felled by injuries and Rafael Nadal buckled in a five-set marathon. He won his first Grand Slam title here 14 years ago and he hadn’t claimed victory at Wimbledon since 2012.
As he took his seat immediately after the match and waited for the award ceremony, the enormity of the accomplishment began to sink in and he shed a tear. Later, he tried to put into words his remarkable career, saying he was never a child prodigy.
“I was just really a normal guy growing up in Basel, hoping to make a career on the tennis tour,” he said. “I guess I dreamed, I believed, and really hoped, that I could actually maybe really do it, you know, to make it real. So I put in a lot of work, and it paid off.”
Sure, he had talent, supportive parents and great coaching. But that wasn’t all. “I felt like I dreamed pretty big as a kid. I believed that maybe things were possible that maybe others thought were never going to be achievable,” he said. “Then in the game, I guess, yes, I was blessed with a lot of talent, but I also had to work for it. Talent only gets you [so] far, really.”
And beneath that calm exterior is a fighter who loves the spotlight and taking on opponents when it really matters. “I’ve always been a big-stage player. I always felt like I played my best on the biggest courts.”
Few expected him to be back at Wimbledon this year and even he wasn’t so sure. He lost in the semi-final last year to Milos Raonic and had been plagued by a host of knee and back injuries that could have finished his career. After Wimbledon, he took the rest of 2016 off and vowed to take better care of his body. He returned in January, winning the Australian Open and picking up victories at Indian Wells and Miami before skipping the clay season to concentrate on Wimbledon.
“I’m incredibly surprised how well this year is going, how well I’m feeling, as well,” he said. “I knew I could do great again, maybe one day, but not at this level. So I guess you would have laughed, too, if I told you I was going to win two [Grand] Slams this year. People wouldn’t believe me if I said that.”
The lanky Cilic was supposed to represent something of a challenge to Federer’s place in history. Seven years younger, five inches taller and possessed with a booming serve, Cilic had thrashed Federer in the semi-final of the U.S. Open in 2014. He looked the picture of confidence as he breezed through the tournament, losing just three sets. But the Cilic threat failed to materialize and the Croat was done in by a blister on his left foot, so severe that he lost concentration after a few games. It was all too much for the 28-year-old and after the third game of the second set, down 0-3 and already a set behind, he broke down crying.
“It was just emotionally that I knew on such a big day that I’m unable to play my best tennis,” he recalled afterward. “For me it was actually very difficult to focus on the match, as well, as my mind was all the time blocked with the pain. It was tough for me to focus on the tactics, on the things that I needed to do.” Medical staff taped up his foot and Cilic valiantly tried to carry on, but he was not up to it and rarely posed a threat. And his mighty serve just couldn’t deliver.
He’d gone into the match with the second highest number of aces during the tournament, at 135, but managed just five aces in the final, while Federer had eight. Cilic’s serve was so wonky during the opening set that he was putting less than half of his first serves into play. He also committed 23 unforced errors and didn’t win a single break point. “I wasn’t serving very good today because of [the blister],” he said. “I was just not able to set up properly on the balls.”
For Canada, this year’s Wimbledon didn’t have the glory of 2016 when Raonic lost to Murray in the final and Denis Shapovalov won the boy’s title. But there were still plenty of encouraging signs for Tennis Canada particularly among the younger rising stars. Raonic got to the quarter-final and Shapovalov, now 18, has established himself enough as a professional that he received a wild-card entry, although he lost in the first round. Teenage sensation Bianca Andreescu breezed through qualifying and lost in the first round of the main draw, but picked up invaluable experience for someone just 17 years old. Françoise Abanda, 20, also made it through qualifying and got to the second round of the main draw. Carson Branstine made it to the fourth round of girl’s doubles and Gabriela Dabrowski, 25, got just as far in mixed doubles.
But Wimbledon was all about Federer this year. When asked what he thought made Federer so great, Cilic replied: “I think his ability and his desire to continue to improve is definitely one of the best in the game. Even at the age that he is at now, he’s still improving, still challenging himself to get better and better.”
Federer isn’t sure if he’ll be back at Wimbledon next year. The Rogers Cup in Montreal is also a question mark as he monitors his recovery and preparation for the coming hard-court season. But he has no plans to retire any time soon. “What keeps me going? I don’t know, I love to play,” he said with a smile. “I feel like I’m working part-time these days almost, which is a great feeling.”Report Typo/Error