Roger Federer has overcome the odds and statistics to rebuild a mystical aura after beating Marin Cilic in straight sets in the Wimbledon final
Roger Federer is one of those rare champions for whom numbers cannot gild genius. He loves to win, and strives for it more convincingly in the autumn of his career than scores of young contenders, as he proved for the eighth time on Centre Court on Sunday. Yet it is as if victory follows art, not the other way round.
For the record, these are the bare statistics that will go into the history books to embellish his achievement, after he had spent just an hour and 41 minutes beating a wounded Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.
In his 102nd match at Wimbledon, he scored his 91st win, more than anyone in modern times, to win a title he first lifted in 2003, the year he defeated Mark Philippoussis in three sets. The Australian, five years older than Federer and long retired, was swept away with all the big guns of that time: Marat Safin in Melbourne, Andy Roddick here, twice; Lleyton Hewitt in New York, Andre Agassi there too.
Those victories, however, were only precursors to his rivalry with Rafael Nadal, a dual dominance that lingered for a decade, until the arrival of Novak Djokovic and then, to a lesser extent, Andy Murray.
Yet they have all fallen. All of them. Roger Federer is not just a survivor the oldest man in the Open era to win the mens singles title at Wimbledon. If he were an actor, this would be his lifetime achievement Oscar, to keep forever. His 19th grand slam title puts him alongside Helen Wills Moody in fourth place on the all-time list, behind Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22). Will he be so uncouth as to move past the ladies? If so, he will do it with a smile.
What the numbers cannot describe are the star-struck cheers that greeted him in a fleeting appearance later on the gangway near Centre Court. Nor can they adequately make sense of how his every whipped backhand, with that one, brown and perfectly muscled right arm, brings sighs of devotion from the stands.
They love, too, the fluidity, grace and balance of his movement as he glides over the turf; they marvel at his uncanny anticipation and almost palpable tennis intelligence, moving silkily to cut off what would quite often be clear winners with one downward swish of his racket to propel the offending ball back with interest. They are not just sports fans or tennis enthusiasts, they are lovers of ballet and theatre. They come not to see just a tennis match, but a performance that transcends sport.
Yet this was so one-sided a story, so predictable a narrative, that it lacked any dramatic impact. It was hugely anticlimactic, despite the best efforts of the antagonists. There was no tension, just ennui for the loser, relief for the winner.
It is easy to disregard Federers fighting spirit because he has what only a few human beings, let alone athletes, have: poise under pressure. If he were president of the world and we were being invaded by Mars, Federer would calmly turn them back with a smile.
Muhammad Ali had this almost supernatural ability to hover above the rest of humanity, and did it in the toughest sporting arena of them all. Sachin Tendulkar (who came to worship in the Royal Box this year) had it on the cricket field. Zinedine Zidane was rarely buffeted from his purpose with a football at his feet, and nobody has yet made Federer lose his composure on the tennis court especially this one, where victory is considered almost inevitable. It is his personal battlefield, although there was not much fighting on Sunday.
It was regrettable for Cilic and the crowd that the Croat was hobbled after the first set. He had not moved well from the start and, 0-3 down in the second, called for the trainer to look at his left foot. From that point until the end he was in almost tearful anguish. He desperately wanted to be a worthy part of the big occasion, but could not compete. He will probably never know nor will we how much better a show he could have put on had he been fit.
But that is the price they pay. They are all hurting at some point. Murray and Djokovic suffered to the point here where the Scot was reduced to immobility at the end of his quarterfinal against Sam Querrey, and the Serb had to quit early in the second set against Tomas Berdych.
And there at the top of the mountain, for the 19th time, stood the man who has largely eluded the grief of injury in his long career. He has been inconvenienced here and there most seriously last year when undergoing an operation on his knee that forced him off the Tour for six months but generally he has been blessed.
He returned better than ever from last years setback. It was nothing short of amazing that he could win the Australian Open. And there is little left to say about his performance here. He admits he did not expect to win in Melbourne; indeed, he did not think he would get beyond the quarters. But he had realistic ambitions at his favourite tournament. This is where Federer has always felt most comfortable, even when forced to fight. Not on Sunday. Maybe not next year, either. And there is every chance he can win at Flushing Meadows next month.
None of that seemed remotely possible seven months ago. Nobody discussed the possibility of Federer so completely rebuilding his aura that, regardless of what the rankings say on Monday morning, he is the best player in the world again. And by some distance.
Read more: www.theguardian.com