How Roger Federer became the King of Wimbledon

Roger Federer will arrive in London this week looking like a successful Swiss banker, suave in appearance, multi-lingual and rich beyond imagination.

He mostly travels by private jet and he lives in splendour in Switzerland and Dubai with his wife Mirka, and their twin daughters, Charlene and Myla.

But no matter the privileged life he leads, no matter the opportunities that lie ahead as the sun begins to set on the most illustrious career tennis has seen, Federer’s spiritual home will be for ever within the lavishly-tended acreage of the All-England Club, in London SW19.

In the past decade, he has been almost a permanent presence on Centre Court on the day of the men’s final at Wimbledon, and the British public have witnessed, with unrestrained admiration, Federer’s journey from a pony-tailed tennis hippy to the game’s senior statesman.

That Federer will walk into the All-England Club as the defending champion just  a couple of months from his 32nd birthday will be a source of great pride. Only Rafael Nadal has beaten him in the eight finals he has played on Centre Court — in a match that finished in near-darkness in 2008; a game regarded as the greatest final in Wimbledon history.

For Federer, the 10th anniversary of the first of his seven titles is a moment to savour. ‘If you take all the other tournaments away and just talk about Wimbledon, there alone, I’ve had an amazing career,’ he said.

‘I always hoped just to be playing at Wimbledon like my heroes, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker, let alone think about winning there. I can’t believe it’s 10 years since I first won; what a magical run it’s been.’

Federer’s dominance there will be chronicled not just for the brilliance of his tennis — astute judges from Rod Laver to John McEnroe acclaimed him as the greatest player of all time in the middle of the last decade — but also for his sartorial choices.

He won his first two titles in 2003 and ’04 wearing his long hair tied in a short ponytail above a headband. He won his fifth successive championship in 2007, equalling the record of Bjorn Borg, by walking on court in long trousers and a blazer with his initials embroidered in gold thread on the breast pocket.

It was a reflection of Federer’s desire to embrace tradition without fear of ridicule, or failure. By then, the pony-tailed kid was just  a photograph in the Wimbledon museum.

No one could live with Federer. American Andy Roddick, who lost three Wimbledon finals against him, said after his first defeat in 2004: ‘I threw the kitchen sink at him but he went to the bathroom and got his tub.’

Yet, speaking to the BBC, Federer reveals himself to be feeling the burden of expectation tightening like  a noose around his neck at Wimbledon before his first title. He had won eight titles on the ATP Tour, but two years had passed since he had beaten seven-time champion Sampras at Wimbledon and he sensed  a growing impatience at his failure to translate his talent into a major title.

‘In Switzerland, we had Martina Hingis, who was this phenomenon at 16,’ said Federer. ‘At 17, 18, she was winning, dominating, and we got used to it. It was considered I had talent, but it became a challenge for me.  I had to keep my mental side in check, and stay strong. Physically, I had to keep improving as I knew I wasn’t there yet. With that win over Sampras, I really gave many people a belief that I should win a Grand Slam, and if I did, it would be Wimbledon.  I came to Wimbledon in 2003 under a lot of pressure, having lost in the first round the previous year.'

After beating Roddick in the semi-finals, he dismantled Mark Philippoussis to lift the gold trophy for the first time. ‘I had a back issue during the fortnight,’ he said. ‘It was very complicated to manage but we did so. And it was  a dream come true.

‘I had faced a lot of criticism and doubts. People were questioning if I was ever going to win one [major]. Looking back, you think how could people say that? But, in that moment, people were comparing me to Pete Sampras; and he won 60-something titles, and  I had won barely five. Basically, that’s not fair.’

Federer’s first triumph was a catalyst for him to assemble a record 17 Grand Slams. Sampras was in the Royal Box when Federer’s win over Roddick in 2009 enabled the Swiss to eclipse the American’s haul of 14 majors. ‘He’s won all the majors and he’s won 15,’ said Sampras. ‘In my books he is the greatest. Roger is a great champion. He’s a friend,  a great player and he can  get up to 18 or 19. He’s a legend, an icon and a credit to the game.’

Federer is treated as tennis royalty at Wimbledon. When a surprise party was arranged to celebrate his 30th birthday in Switzerland in August 2011, Tim Phillips, who was Wimbledon chairman through most of Federer’s success, was invited. Last summer Federer had a more public celebration when he won for a seventh time, beating gallant Andy Murray.

Tiger Woods wrote on Twitter: ‘Hats off to Murray for a great fight. But we saw why Fed is the GOAT.’ That acronym is shorthand for The Greatest of All Time.

Federer’s peerless story is nearing its end, but these Championships will be a celebration of his extraordinary contribution to the history of Wimbledon, as well as tennis.

‘It’s not over yet,’ said Federer, perhaps still a tennis hippy at heart in spite of all his wealth and elegance.

Date: 16th June 2013, Source: Dailymail


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