July 10, 2015
Even by the impeccable standards of Roger Federer, this was a jaw-dropping performance. Tennis from another planet, near perfection, supreme composure. Straight sets, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4? Who saw that coming? Not even Roger.
‘People thought four or five sets, including me,’ he admitted.
No wonder people say that Federer is the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen. He seems to have reached the final almost effortlessly, though he would have you believe otherwise.
‘It’s been tough,’ he said, ‘Andy’s been playing very well, there was so much expectation and you feel maybe the break will come and he’ll get back into the match, but I played so well on the big occasion. I won it on my serve.’
To be on Centre Court when the Fed hits these heights is to be in the presence of something truly phenomenal. It has become a cliche to call certain sporting talent superhuman. Yet you watch the grace, balance and precision of Federer and you really do ask yourself how it is possible that a human being can do this.
Then there is the mind. Unflappable and ruthless, the perfect compliment to the natural grace, the brain guides his brilliance on the rare occasions when pure instinct isn’t enough.
And the result? In the opening set alone, Federer hit 85% of his first serves accurately, pinged down eleven aces and conjured 23 winners. There were only three unforced errors – incredible economy under such monumental pressure.
In the second set, Federer achieved 100% success behind his first serve. Hard as Murray fought, he couldn’t find the answer. That’s not to say the Scot didn’t play well. He showed flare, talent, determination and bravery. In the second set, he finally held serve to hold a tenth game that went on forever, full of impossible shots from both men and incredulous gasps from the crowd. ‘I was screaming inside myself,’ admitted Federer after he lost that game after nearly fifteen minutes. It didn’t show.
To say that spectators felt lucky to be there to witness such magic must be an understatement. Whatever they had paid for their seats, there couldn’t have been a single soul on Centre Court who regretted it for a moment.
All sets must come to an end, however great, and Federer promptly held serve in a comparative instant and broke Murray just when it mattered.
For all Andy’s ability, he simply doesn’t have the mental strength of Federer, or quite the skill. He was a worthy opponent on an unforgettable day, and yet you wonder whether even Novak Djokovic can defeat Roger on this sort of form.
‘We’ll see, he is the best player in the world right now but I know how to beat him, it’s a question of whether I can do it on Sunday,’ said Roger with cautious confidence.
This final promises to be every bit as wonderful as their titanic struggle last year. How most neutrals would love to see the result reversed, to see Federer claim his eighth Wimbledon title shortly before his 34th birthday. Federer defies age; in fact he defies all human limitations. He is the most loved player on the planet; and if there is extra-terrestrial life, they will be loving him in other galaxies too.
Djokovic will break many human hearts if he wins again, and yet no one would begrudge Novak his glory either, for he is a wonderful fighter, technically brilliant, defensively the best there has ever been. Djokovic will seek to seal his own dream of holding onto that Wimbledon title to further cement his own place in history.
He showed superb skills to keep Richard Gasquet at bay in the first semi-final and won through in style, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-4. Novak said later: ‘I’m living the dream, playing here on the best-known tennis court in the world. It’s a final in the cradle, the cradle of our sport, the most watched match in the world.’
We’re all living the dream, aren’t we? All of us lucky enough to watch the greatest tennis that has ever been played, and the greatest ever likely to be played. Those who don’t find a ticket for Centre Court on Sunday will be heartily jealous of those who do, for only the most fortunate will be there in person for an experience that will be priceless.
To be able to say ‘I was there.’ It is no exaggeration to say this will be one of the greatest occasions in the history of sport. You just know these two gladiators will fight it out until they have no energy left at all, while the crowd shrieks in delight.
Can it match last year’s final? Of course. After all, Roger Federer is playing even better this time around. So you wonder, just wonder, if the impossible dream can become a reality. And then you remember that in the case of Mr Federer, nothing is impossible.