July 16, 2017
Close to tears, headband removed, Roger Federer could scarcely believe that he had achieved his dream by winning an eighth Wimbledon title at last.
He must have thought his final opportunity had gone when he lost to Milos Raonic in their semi twelve months ago.
Then came injury, six months out and what we all thought might be a nostalgic swansong with no further honours added.
But suddenly seventeen Grand Slam titles have become nineteen. First the Australian and now this, the one he wanted most.
‘I guess it’s just belief, to achieve such heights,’ said Roger after defeating Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4. ‘I wasn’t sure if I was going to be here again after last year.
‘I’ve had some tough finals. I always believed I could come back here again. I kept believing and dreaming and here I am today.’
In the end, this wasn’t a tough final – but it could have been. The afternoon certainly started out that way. Federer’s backhand was misfiring in the early games, he was serving up double faults too, and Cilic had a break point to go 3-1 ahead.
For a few dreadful moments, it appeared that Roger wanted victory too much, would struggle to achieve his normal, beautiful flow, and would fall to the younger, more mechanical player at the final hurdle.
But Federer saved that break point, and set up some of his own, with the help of a shot that defined the course of the match. Cilic had shown a deft touch at the net to go cross-court, but then Roger conjured something seemingly impossible.
He found an angle so acute with his backhand that he almost sent his shot around the net-post. But he was even better than that, so he cleared the net too, and his winner brought Centre Court to its feet. Minutes later, Federer had taken his third break point opportunity to assume control of the match – and he never let go.
There was another definitive moment, one that was entirely unexpected – the sight of Marin Cilic in tears at 0-3 down in the second.
He had been imploding in the previous game or two, a bundle of nerves, appearing more one dimensional than he really is, for Cilic has more to his game than a big serve these days.
The Croat’s 14th unforced error gave Federer an easy point and he closed that third game of the second set with an ace. Cue his opponent’s tears.
What was happening? Was Cilic carrying an injury? At the end of the set, which he lost 1-6, Cilic revealed a horrible blister, which required extensive treatment.
But this was about more than a blister. For whatever reason, here was a man crumbling under the physical and emotional pressure of the final, whereas Federer seemed to be so at home and in control of his powers that we realised right there and then that for Cilic there could be no way back.
‘I gave my best, that’s all I could do,’ said Marin, tears welling up in his eyes. ‘It was really tough today, I gave it my all, and I hope to come back here and give myself one more chance.’
No reason why Federer shouldn’t try to do the same. After all, twenty Grand Slams sound so much better than nineteen. He’ll have his eye on the US Open with that target in mind too…and probably Wimbledon 2018!
But for now, we should just reflect on Roger’s incredible comeback. No one, not even Federer himself, for all his dreaming, could really have believed that he could win the Australian Open and then Wimbledon. He’ll be 36 next month, after all.
How do you turn back time? In Federer’s case, effortlessly. That’s how he does everything. And we love him for it.