A curse on you, tennis gods ! Why couldn’t you have let Roger Federer have one last moment in the sun? How perfect it would have been if he had won his eighth Wimbledon title and his 18th Grand Slam tournament on his favorite tennis court !!
But it was not to be. Novak Djokovich, the best player in the world the last couple of years, elevated his game and beat Roger Federer in a thrilling four set final that saw some beautiful tennis by both players. Federer matched Djokovich stroke for stroke as they split the first two sets but then faded as Djokovich emerged a deserving winner. Coming on the heels of his emphatic though hard-fought victory over Andy Murray in the semifinals, Roger proved with his performance today that, even at age 33, he is the second best grass court player in the world. Even though he lost, he ( and Novak) gave us some moments of rare beauty for the scrap book of our memories. We could not have asked any more from him.
There is no point in giving yet another stroke- by- stroke re-telling of the match we saw yesterday, one which is still fresh in our minds. Better to remember the at-times thrilling stroke-play, especially that in the first two sets. An inside-out backhand by Federer that left Djokovic standing. Novak rifling a backhand winner off a 126 mph first serve by Roger. Roger threading a down the line winner on the run that had Novak staring in disbelief. Novak running all the way from deep on the forehand side to beyond the other sideline to scoop up and put away a Federer placement that looked like a sure winner. These are the things that I will take away from the match.
To be sure both players committed their share of errors. After all these are human beings , not automatons. Federer was not as decisive as he had been against Murray in the semifinal and his first serve was not clicking the way it had on Friday. Novak too had his bad patches. However, what the armchair critics seem not to understand is that many of the errors were caused by the pressure exerted by their opponent. It is easy for someone to sit at his computer, a person who for all I know has never played competitive tennis, to pontificate about what Federer should have done: That he should have realized that he had no chance against Novak in a baseline duel; that he should have rushed the net more. The truth is that Novak’s returns were so good, his shots so deep that they kept Roger pinned in the back court. Even when Novak’s first serve didn’t click, he mixed up his second serves so well that Roger was unable to take advantage. Time and time again, Novak ran down Roger’s best shots and returned them for winners. How disheartening it must have been for his opponent.
In short, Roger played as well as he was allowed to and it is to his credit that he made the match as close as it was.
After the match, Federer said that he would continue to play on and return for another crack at the Wimbledon title.
Next year, he will be close to 35 and it is difficult to imagine that he will be able to better his performance this year. But Roger is Roger and one can always hope.
Rare is the case when a player retires at the top of his game. Most hang on, trying to squeeze out one more triumph and failing with increasing regularity. It is a painful for their fans to watch yet I was not as upset by Federer’s loss yesterday as I would have been in the past. Partly, it is because of my diminished expectations but it is also that, in the case of Roger Federer, there is much to admire beyond his won- lost record. The beauty of his all-court game. The effortless grace with which he covers the court. The majesty of his one-handed backhand. His impeccable demeanor on and off court. These are the things that I will remember and which I will continue to savor as his career winds down.
Records are meant to be broken and one day his records will be too. Perhaps by Djokovic, perhaps by Nadal or perhaps by some as yet unknown teenager whacking tennis balls on a public court somewhere. It doesn’t matter because, regardless of where Roger Federer is in the standings, he will always be Number 1 with me.