Despite him being knocked out in the quarter final, and whatever the outcome of this year’s men’s singles final at Wimbledon, Roger Federer remains the people’s champion.
The 36 year old, the first man to win Wimbledon eight times, was once again the king of hearts at the tournament this year — this, of course, judging from fan emotions and crowd responses.
A match that shows the mettle of this truly great player is the Wimbledon men’s final from one decade ago: the 2008 final Federer played against Rafael Nadal. This is an encounter that John McEnroe describes as “the greatest tennis match ever”. And it was indeed a thrilling and tense encounter.
The previous year, Federer had defeated Nadal in the final, and had thus equalled Bjorn Borg’s record of winning the title five consecutive times. So in 2008 he was looking to become the first man to do this six times in a row.
Federer emerged onto Centre Court, looking as dapper as ever, wearing an elegant gold trimmed cardigan buttoned neatly all the way down the front, while Nadal looked decidedly more casual in his sweatshirt and sleeveless style T-shirt. But fighting spirit rather than sartorial power was what was needed and Federer got off to a miserable start losing the first set quickly and then losing control of the second set despite being 3-0 ahead in it at one stage. Nadal was able to take the set by 6-4. Federer was making so many uncharacteristic mistakes that it looked then as if the match would be over in the third set. But a downpour early in the third set caused a break in play.
When play did resume, Federer came back and fought back ferociously against Nadal’s aggressive and astonishing game. Not only did he defend several match points but he was able to win the set on a tie break. He then proceeded to win the fourth set making it two sets all, and thus took a match in which he had been two sets down all the way to the fifth set.
The fifth set was so closely fought, that one moment it seemed as if Federer was winning, the next as if Nadal was. But as we know, Nadal won the final set 9-7 (no tie break in a fifth set situation), in an amazing display of composure and determination.
It was truly one of the greatest tennis encounters the world has ever seen, often compared to the 1980 Men’s Wimbledon Final between Borg and McEnroe.
Despite this humbling defeat, Federer came back to win Wimbledon thrice more: in 2009, 2012 and 2017. Last year particularly he astounded analysts and commentators by winning the tournament without dropping a single set. And although he missed out on the six consecutive wins record in 2008, last year he did set a new record by becoming the only man to win Wimbledon eight times.
Federer is almost 37 years old, and, yet, he has somehow continued to dominate the sport with his astounding tennis: his power and skill along with the elegance of his movement is dazzling. Then there’s the Mr Nice Guy image, the manners, the deference to fans, along with the optics of his Swiss-South African parents and his immensely supportive wife cheering him on at matches, and his four children (two sets of identical twins) which serve to further endear him to the world. His sartorial perfection is also pretty delightful.
But what I continue to find fascinating about this champion is the fact that in his youth he had an anger management problem. He would fling and smash his rackets on court and throw tantrums regularly. Yes, really, that was the cool-as-a-cucumber King of the Court Roger Federer! I think it is so admirable that he was able to learn that this negativity was doing him no good and was able to make himself into the player and person he is today.
I find it very sad that Federer exited this year’s Wimbledon in the manner he did to South Africa’s Kevin Anderson with a match he could have easily won in the third set. And now it’s not clear if he’ll choose to play this tournament again. But his other famous defeat — that 2008 final is, for me, a good illustration of his greatness: he didn’t win the tournament then but he still became a winner. A fighter, an artist and a gentleman.