By Jane Voigt
Roger Federer was not playing well. He’d racked up two double faults in four games of this, a record 11th Wimbledon final. Fans demurred, offering existential reasons on social media. But sometimes even the Swiss Maestro cannot produce heavenly tennis. Facts are facts. Federer is human.
Then he wasn’t.
His dreams of winning Wimbledon one more time coupled with thoughtful plans for that miraculous moment burst into history, as Federer clinched his record eighth title, record 19th major overall, and second slam of the year.
He cried after realizing what had happened, his arms in the air. He cried from the sideline, on seeing his family: wife Mirka and their two sets of twins. Plus his mother and father, and all his team of loyal supporters who, by the way, like their jobs.
“Feeling great. Holding the trophy and not dropping a set … it’s magical, really,” Federer told Sue Barker of the BBC on court. “It means the world to me.”
The world will view Federer’s triumph through a magical lens, as well.
A year back he left the game for seven months. Then, in January he grabbed The Australian Open title from the grips of Rafael Nadal, his most fierce opponent, down a break in the fifth set. There was more to come. He won Indian Wells, Miami, Halle and entered Wimbledon as the favorite or, at least, as the sentimental favorite.
Does this really happen in sport? At 35, fourteen years after he’d won his first title at Wimbledon? An international celebrity and all-round nice guy winning an unprecedented 8th Wimbledon, on his beloved lawn, breaking records on the forehand and backhand sides?
Yes. And, according to Federer, it all came through hard work and belief.
“I guess a lot of work with my physio, in the gym and on court,” Federer told Tom Rinaldi of ESPN, when asked how he’d prevailed. That from the man who gave himself no chances of winning a major after his layoff. “I had some tough ones here, losing to Novak in 2014 and 2015, but I always believed I could come back and do it again. And, if you believe, you can go really far in your life.”
His victory extends the dominance, too, of the so-called Big Four. Lleyton Hewitt was the last man outside that quarter in 2002 to win Wimbledon. However, an asterisk will ride its way through tennis history, as Federer did not have to face any of those elite opponents on his way to victory over this fortnight.
The match was a difficult one, though, especially for seventh-seeded Marin Cilic. After double faulting to hand set one to Federer, Cilic dropped a towel over his head on the changeover. At the next one, he cried, all eyes on this man who had expected so much from himself on this day, his first Wimbledon final. A trainer appeared, then a doctor. Nothing appeared to be physically wrong with Cilci. He brushed his tears aside and stepped to the baseline.
Federer went up 5-1, then closed the second set … 6-1.
Imagine the alternative to coming out on Centre Court like blockbusters, ready for the challenge, bit in mouth and then a cruel fate raises its head and crushes hope? That had to have been Cilic’s expectation.
But then, was he hurt? Did that slip at the net when he hyper-extended his right knee do enough damage to cause what seemed like an anxiety attack? Speculation was rampant on social media, some out it of line … most heartfelt. Come to find out, Cilic had been struggling with a blister that popped up during his semifinal win over American Sam Querrey.
“It was just feeling that I knew that I cannot give my best on the court, that I cannot give my best game and my best tennis especially at this stage of my career and at such a big match,” Cilic told the press later, as reported by The New York Times. “It was very difficult to deal with it, and that was the only thing. But, otherwise, it didn’t hurt so much that it was putting me in tears. It was just that feeling that I wasn’t able to give the best.”
The option hung in the air: would Cilic retire? If he had, the total retirements by men over the tournament would’ve reached 10, an unprecedented number in and of itself. The trainer re-tapped his left foot. He jogged to the baseline inside a roar of support from fans.
“That’s what I did through my whole career,” Cilic told Barker, during the awards’ ceremony. “I gave my best. I never gave up. That’s all I can do. I had an amazing tournament and played the best tennis of my life. I hope to come back here and try it again.”
At that point, Cilic’s emotions were on display once again. Crowds responded with more applause. Cilic had revealed a sportsman of character that matched Federer’s character. In a final for the ages, they had established common ground. A distinction that will follow both men and serve the game in positive ways.
“It’s cruel sometimes,” Federer told Barker. “But Marin fought well. You should be really proud.” Later, Federer added, “I didn’t quite well understand what was wrong with Marin. [I] saw him serving, hitting big, and just focused on my own game.”
Federer will enjoy that one thing that satisfies him, at least in the career corner of his life: “To be the reigning Wimbledon champ for an entire year, it’s the best feeling in the world. I don’t need to be number one after that.”
However, he and Rafael Nadal are close in ranking points, having won the first three majors of 2017. Who wins that race will come later.
Roger Federer’s 19 Grand Slam singles titles:
5 — Australian Open
1 — French Open
8 — Wimbledon
5 — U. S. Open
On hand to congratulate Federer were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. She told him, as they shook hands, very good … well played. The sentiment was echoed by many who lined the hall, which lead Federer to the deck overlooking an entry to Centre Court. Hundreds of fans awaited his arrival. When he got there, his smile looked more like a grin from a 37-year-old kid, at least at heart. They chanted Roger … Roger … Roger … as he showed off the golden trophy.
Federer’s tour-de-force season could extend itself, as the hard courts of America rise on the summer’s horizon. But, those courts are tough on well-exercised bones.
“I’m not sure of Rogers Cup,” Federer said, as reported by Ubitennis on Twitter. “But, definitely will play Cincinnati and then, of course, the U.S.Open.”
Federer’s longevity and results — and we can’t forget that he won the junior title 19 years ago — make it impossible to deny the possibility that he could win the U.S. Open. His miraculous victory today, as he called it, in combination with his miraculous season and career cannot completely be explained by hard work, belief, and a harmonious family relationship. The mysterious is in play. An aura, of sorts, that’s wrapped around this man for all to witness. And for that we must stand up and say: job well done, thank you and keep coming back.