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Federer fails at being villain of the piece

Andy Murray sits as Roger Federer waves to the crowd after defeating Murray and winning his seventh Wimbledon title.
by Kate Battersby
Sunday 8 July 2012

It’s a thin day in Central Casting when you try to cast Roger Federer as the villain of the piece. Sunday matinee bad guys are meant to be easy to spot. You know the sort of thing – evil laughter, twirly moustache, all-purpose nastiness. And don’t they dress entirely in black? All right, so the Wimbledon rule about predominantly white clothing didn’t help him out there. But honestly, even allowing for that... One doesn’t wish to be rude but... well... I think we all agree that during the final of Wimbledon 2012 he was utterly hopeless in the role. Awful. Useless, really. All that grace. All that refinement and poise. And that’s without mentioning the simply fabulous tennis he produced once the roof was closed. As for the adorable infant twin daughters watching him receive the trophy... Tut. Get someone else to be the villain, for pity’s sake. Roger Federer simply won’t do at all.

He was so unreservedly useless that you could feel quite sorry for him really, if it wasn’t for him winning his seventh Wimbledon and 17th Grand Slam and regaining the world no.1 spot and what have you. One can only assume that these small prizes brought him some scant comfort on a day when he was utterly unconvincing in the role required of him. And I suppose the fact that he achieved these tiny victories in front of his unbelievably cute daughters will be of some comfort to him eventually. Mercifully, as little Myla Rose and Charlene Riva are still 15 days short of their third birthday, they may not remember the sheer trauma of witnessing their father completely fail to be a villain. But of course, the video evidence of the event simply won’t go away, so they will always know they really were there on the day it all happened.

Let’s start with the basics. Wasn’t Federer supposed to do the decent thing and lose? That part at least seemed to be going quite well in the opening set. He looked as if he understood the character he was playing. The surprising number of unforced errors was a good detail, and the way he appeared generally out-of-sorts was a nice touch. When he actually lost that set, it looked like he had at least some idea of what was required in this particular final. Just a couple more sets like that and we could have overlooked all the habitual grace under pressure and his apparent inability to perspire and so on. But no. It turned out that first set was some kind of misunderstanding.

And that was where it began to go wrong, don’t you think? In the second set, the unforced errors were vastly reduced, and the dangerous Federer familiar from 16 previous Grand Slam successes appeared on the Centre Court stage. No amount of prompting from a most enthusiastic audience could persuade him to leave. Instead this version of Federer would insist on taking the second set at the very first opportunity so that he was right back in the match when the rain came.

Then once the roof was closed, frankly there was no chance of anything but a Federer victory. Really, was no one else available to play under the roof? Someone not quite so... perfect? Federer hasn’t lost an indoor match in more than two years. Casting him under these circumstances was never going to work. He would insist on playing such sublime tennis. Tsk. Most inconvenient.

Then came the moment of victory, and the way his legs gave way underneath him and his face cracked with joy, you would think that his 17th Grand Slam and his seventh Wimbledon was profoundly affecting for him. Where was the snarling? Where was the bitterness of the Sunday matinee villain? It was all most disappointing.

Unbelievably, it got even worse in the post-match press conference. Just see what he had to say about his vanquished opponent. Asked if he felt for Andy Murray, he looked startled.

“Are you kidding me?” he replied. “Of course. It’s hard. I’ve been there as well. To be quite honest, I think he’s done so, so well – because I see him every day. I see him and what he goes through on a daily basis on the Tour. At Wimbledon I think he handles it so perfectly. He’s giving himself so many looks at big titles.

“I really do believe deep down in me that he will win Grand Slams – plural, not just one. I do wish him all the best. This is genuine. He works extremely hard. He’s as professional as you can be. Thing just didn’t quite turn out for him in this final as he hoped. But I’m sure he has got another step closer to a Grand Slam title. I really do believe and hope for him that he’s going to win one soon.”

Quite hopeless, no? Who came up with this script for Federer? Why wasn’t he coached to deliver the correct material expected of a villain, begrudging his opponent the tiniest piece of goodwill and delivering threats and so on? The only explanation can be that Federer devises his own material to say at these times, and that’s why it comes over as so desperately graceful and considered.

There is really very little else to be said on the subject, except that next time – because of course, there will be a next time – Andy Murray plays in the Wimbledon final, we really have to find someone else as his opponent. Someone gawky and bumbling, generally loathed by the crowd, do you see? Frankly, it was an utter waste of time having Roger Federer in the role. He will insist on being such an incalculable asset to tennis. He’s not evil, he’s not nasty, and he doesn’t have a twirly moustache. Have a word with Central Casting, will you? Make sure they do a better job next time.

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