February 18, 2013
Roger Federer’s wonderful semi-final victory over Andy Murray at the O2 Arena reminded us of two things: there is life in the old dog yet… and he still commands a huge, loving fan base in London and beyond.
The Fed has earned that love a hundred times over — and I’ll give you one tiny example. I introduced him to my six-year-old son Luca at Wimbledon the summer before last. ‘Hello,’ Roger said, offering his hand. ‘Are you a tennis player too?’ How nice was that, to make a kid feel his equal at such a huge venue? Little touches like that the world over — that’s why we adore the grand master of the game.
So no one felt sad as Federer out-thought Murray to win 7-6, 6-2 and set up a mouth-watering final against Novak Djokovic tonight. But anyone listening to the crowd’s reaction might still have been surprised. This was no partisan, fiercely pro-Murray gathering of the kind we’d seen at Wimbledon during the Olympics. This was a tennis party determined to convey its enduring love for one of the greatest sportsmen ever to have graced the planet.
So Federer received as many cheers as Murray, and there was no sense of anti-climax when his superior brain carried the day.
The British have always loved Federer because he is polite, classy, handsome, breathtaking and explosive. What more does a sports fan want in a hero? But he didn’t get to the top just by being nice. He also has that ruthless will to win when he’s in the mood — particularly when he’s being written off. That’s why he was able to pressure Murray early in the second set yesterday and exploit the Scotsman’s occasionally-fatal addiction to drop-shots. When you’re as cool as “The Fed,” it’s often just a question of giving an opponent a reason to take a risk. Consistently powerful, error-free tennis is usually enough to nudge a rival towards something a little desperate. Then Roger simply watches his adversary make mistakes — and Murray fell into the Federer trap too willingly.
The truth is, it was impossible to feel too disappointed. Tennis fans know how privileged they are to be in the presence of a sporting legend who is still at the top — or very near the top — of his game.
We all realise that Federer’s supreme grace and control may not be on show for many more years. So we delight in it, we savour it and we applaud it as loudly as we can. Murray admitted last night that Roger deserved the reception he received, even in what is now Andy’s home town. Who could possibly complain when the crowd warms to an all-time-great. And in the final analysis, Federer did Murray a favour by putting him back in his place after five unanswered sets in their last two matches. Andy’s had a wonderful year but he still isn’t as good as Roger — not yet. Here in London we look forward to the day when Murray might be world number one. But no one here or anywhere else in the world is in a hurry to say goodbye to Federer’s effortless magnificence.
Let’s face it, if you don’t love Roger Federer, you don’t love tennis. Just ask my son Luca.
by Mark Ryan (part of the Mail on Sunday‘s Wimbledon reporting team)