Calling Roger Federer’s first Grand Slam final for NBC at Wimbledon 10 years ago, John McEnroe commented “it’s nice to be 21, you can change direction so quickly”.
He was talking about the ease with which the gifted young player glided about the court against big-hitting Aussie Mark Philippoussis, but in hindsight, could just as easily have been predicting the trajectory of Federer’s career, which until that point had failed to live up to the hype.
Federer’s 2013 Wimbledon campaign marks a decade since the most successful run of Grand Slam titles began. His mark stands at 17 majors with his seven triumphs at SW19 alone giving him a share of Pete Sampras’s Open-era record.
In 2001 he had ended the American great’s 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon.
Two years later, pressure had continued to mount.
He had lost badly in the first round to Croatian Mario Ancic the year before, but against Philippoussis, the unshaven Swiss – sporting a white headband tied back beneath his ponytail – finally broke the weight of expectation, which had been spurred on in part by the extraordinary feats of his countrywoman Martina Hingis.
“It came a little bit out of the blue even though I was ranked inside of the top 10 and everything,” Federer said.
“It was not only my first Wimbledon title, but my first Grand Slam title overall.
“The '03 victory came just at the right time. (It) gave me all the confidence I needed to become world No.1 a few months later.”
It would be the first of five consecutive men's titles at Wimbledon, matching an Open-era feat achieved only by Swede Bjorn Borg.
His 2004 title run was the first of three finals on the grass where he would deny American Andy Roddick. While Federer recalls the relief at defending a major for the first time, it was back-to-back finals in 2008 and 2009, which stand out for most as two of the greatest Wimbledon finals played.
“Yeah what a match. It was one of those moments you were happy you were a part of,” Federer said of his 2008 decider against his great rival, Spaniard Rafael Nadal.
“I think I was going for my sixth Wimbledon in a row, Rafa was going for his first Wimbledon ever and he was so close a couple of years before that.
“I came back from two sets to love down, saved match point in the fourth, pushed it to five. It got really dark and late at the end of the match and he got the better of me.”
The only way to compound the heartache of that loss – 9-7 in the fifth set after 4 hours and 48 minutes – would have been in a similar mammoth final the following year against familiar foe Roddick.
“(I) hadn’t had a chance to break Andy and... I didn’t want to lose back to back Wimbledon finals in an epic,” Federer said.
“This one I really wanted it back. I also wanted to achieve the record for most Grand Slam wins after tying Pete’s record at the French Open and winning my first French Open in ’09.”
In another four-hour-plus classic, he would go on to pip Roddick 16-14 in the fifth, in what was the longest fifth set in a Grand Slam men’s singles final.
“It was one of those big moments having Pete Sampras sitting there, Bjorn Borg I think was sitting there as well, John McEnroe, Rod Laver.”
Arriving at the 2012 Championships as the third seed, it was the first time Federer had gone longer than two years without hoisting the trophy since his 2003 breakthrough.
Critics had dismissed his chances more so leading up to his 2012 campaign than at any previous, but the chance to draw level with Sampras on seven titles and to return to the top of the rankings – where he would break the American’s record of 286 weeks at No.1 – was all the fuel he needed.
“I knew if I could beat (Andy) Murray I could become world No.1 after that and then break Pete’s all-time record,” he said.
“For me that was a big deal.”
But perhaps the greatest moment of his seventh Wimbledon crown did not boil down to statistics, records or accolades from the game’s greats.
“(I) had my kids seeing me from the stands, clapping to me when I walked past with the Wimbledon trophy,” Federer said.
“That’s not a vision I had in my wildest dreams that my family would see me win Wimbledon.”