January 29, 2017
Roger Federer dropped down on one knee, hardly knowing whether to laugh or cry, realising his remarkable comeback was complete.
No one in their right mind would have predicted it at the start of the year, but that’s the funny thing about sport. The more you want glory, the harder it is to get your hands on it. Expect nothing of yourself, and you can work miracles.
And make no mistake, this 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory is a sporting miracle to compare with anything that has gone before. We keep having to remind ourselves that Federer is 35 and hadn’t played for six months.
The fact that he was 1-3 down in the final set against a determined Nadal will only add to the legend.
And even during the emotional moment of his post-match speech, Federer recognised that he may soon be forced to bid farewell to these sporting theatres, as time marches on.
‘I hope to see you next year,’ he told the Rod Laver Arena after hugging the man himself and collecting his trophy. ‘If not, this was a wonderful run this year and I can’t be happier to have won tonight.’
Roger knows he has at least one more shot at Wimbledon and the US Open. After that, he will have to do some serious thinking. For now, he can pinch himself and try to take in what he has done.
This was the first time Federer had won a Grand Slam for five years, the first he had snatched from Rafael Nadal in ten years. But the most telling statistic is 18-14, the total Slam singles titles won by Roger and Rafa respectively.
It could have been 17-15, with a resurgent Nadal breathing down Roger’s neck for the right to call himself the greatest male tennis player who ever lived. So this win is indescribably important when you think about the long-term legacy both players will soon leave our wonderful sport.
How did Roger prevail against the odds? Simple. He didn’t want it too much. He learned from the tightness he suffered on the verge of glory against Novak Djokovic in Wimbledon finals, he found a way to relax in moments of extreme pressure.
Before Federer played Stan Wawrinka a few days ago, we wrote: ‘Federer needs to remind himself that he has nothing to lose, that he has already surpassed everyone’s – including his own – expectations.’
In an interview before the final against Nadal, Federer said: ‘I need to go in with a nothing-to-lose attitude, and tell myself I’ve still had a really good tournament.’
The great man got it. Like all exceptional sportsmen, he worked out where he had gone wrong before and made the necessary adjustments – this time psychological.
How else would he have avoided tightening physically and punishing himself mentally when everything started to go wrong with the winning post in sight?
At 4-3 ahead in the fifth, he had Nadal 0-40 on the Spaniard’s serve and only needed to convert one of those break points to be serving for the Slam. He fluffed his lines three times.
Wouldn’t most people have imploded or started beating themselves up for their carelessness? Wouldn’t most people have begun to fear an epic choke and tensed irreversably?
Not Roger. After all, the price he paid for 73 stunning winners was a total of 57 unforced errors. He went for it. He forgave himself when it didn’t go right. He earned his reward.
He responded to the challenge in that penultimate game with relaxed, flowing backhands and a wonderful forehand winner. Still Rafa wouldn’t go away, but Federer proved to be far more at ease with himself as he finally broke with a stretching backhand.
Even serving for the title, Roger faced a fresh crisis as he fell 15-40 behind. He refused to become flustered, fired down an ace and followed up with a beautifully timed forehand winner. He couldn’t have generated such power had he not been relaxed at the most stressful moments.
Further drama delayed his victory. Faults and challenges would have unsettled most men but Federer would not be distracted. And when his final forehand was shown to have more than grazed the line, the world cheered.
Many thousands probably even wept with joy too, just a little, since Federer is surely the best-loved sportsman on the planet and it is impossible not to be happy for him.
A gracious Nadal, who had tightened more often than Federer on the big points, acknowledged: ‘It was a great match and probably Roger deserved to win a little bit more than me.’
As for Federer, you could tell he really meant it when he said: ‘I would have been happy to lose too, or share the win with Rafa. The comeback was perfect as it was.’
And that, conversely, is why Federer won. Crucially, he saw the chance of one last glorious moment but didn’t snatch at it, as he has done before. This time, he let an eighteenth title come to him, through humble faith in his talent and a belief that he had nothing to lose…and therefore nothing to fear.
Want to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon 2017, possibly Federer’s last Wimbledon? Just click here and don’t let the moment pass you by.