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Who is this Federer chap?

Roger Federer in practice on Day 12
by Kate Battersby
Saturday 5 July 2014

Have you heard? Wimbledon 2014 is all about the changing of the guard, making way for the next generation.

And how very true that is, proven by the line-up for the men’s final. One of the competitors is a particularly fresh-faced young fellow you won’t know much about, but he’s really quite promising, by all accounts.

Actually, he’s managed to notch up a fair bit of experience, seeing as how the last time a Grand Slam took place without him was in the last century – this is his 59th in a row. It seems he’s met with a moderate level of success, too, as this is his 25th Grand Slam final and he’s won 17, including seven Wimbledons. One month shy of his 33rd birthday, he’s something of a youngster, so we must allow for the fact that he might get a bit over-awed on Centre Court, being such a novice on the great stage. You have to feel sympathy for him. He’s so green, and in such uncharted territory, that he may well be utterly crippled with nerves and perspire rather a lot. In fact [lowers voice conspiratorially], word is that heavy perspiration is a well-known problem for him – that and general clumsiness about the court. Poor chap.

Mmm? His name? One moment... I need to look it up, as obviously he’s gone completely below the radar until now. Robert someone, is it? Ah, here we are – Roger Federer, from Switzerland. Make a note of the name. Insiders think his tennis is sufficiently promising that he might even be able to make some kind of a living out of it. Still, keep it under your hat. We don’t want everyone knowing about him.

All right. Enough with the oh-so-witty sarcasm. But really, how dim have we been, as onlookers at Wimbledon 2014? Rather a lot of us seem to have treated the great man’s bid for an eighth title with something akin to politeness, as if it had to be mentioned out of mere duty, with no real prospect of it actually materialising. It was all to be filed away under His Best Days Are Behind Him, on account of his grim second round defeat here last year as defending champion, and the fact that he is now a father-of-four. He’s got other priorities now, do you see? He can also be found in the filing cabinet labelled Too Old. Arthur Ashe was 31 years 360 days when he won in 1975; Federer is 32 years 332 days, the most senior Slam finalist since Andre Agassi at the US Open in 2005.

Hmmm. Federer is not the monarch of the tennis kingdom that he was for so long. But to extrapolate that to mean his personal collection of Grand Slams will not extend beyond a scant 17 is hopelessly blinkered thinking, nowhere more so than in SW19. Yet we spotted no clue in him arriving here having won in Halle for the seventh time, to add to the Dubai title he won earlier in the season. We didn’t even take much notice that he got through four rounds here without losing a set; such statistics can be red herrings, after all – just ask Andy Murray. In fact, we don’t really seem to have taken terribly much notice of Federer until now, when he has arrived at his ninth Wimbledon final, bidding for an unprecedented eighth title.

Moreover, even at this moment, among some observers a good part of the reason we appear to be graciously noticing that Federer has a shout at the title is that his opponent Novak Djokovic does not appear to be playing his most cast-iron tennis. The fact that Federer has won 88 out of 89 service games so far this Fortnight is given less weight.

Of course, we need look back only 12 months to find a player who did not blow the opposition away in every match throughout the Fortnight, but then came spectacularly good in the final to win in straight sets. Djokovic was on the wrong end of the result that day, and funnily enough will be intent upon reversing the story this time around. He may well succeed. But Federer will grab this latest chance – we have surely learned by now not to describe it as his last – with both hands. The 2014 final is an absolutely intriguing prospect.

“I must say I’ve enjoyed our matches,” says Federer. “We always play great against each other. We didn’t come through the rankings together, so I was established while he was coming up. But ever since he’s won Grand Slams and become world No.1, it’s been a cool rivalry.”

Federer leads their career encounters 18-16, including their one meeting on grass in the last four here in 2012, when the Swiss was en route to his seventh title. They have met 11 times in Slams, with Federer leading 6-5; and for those seeking more recent form, the pair have met seven times since that Wimbledon semi-final, with Djokovic edging those encounters 4-3. They have met just once in a Grand Slam final, when Federer won three close sets at Flushing Meadows in 2007, a time when the then-20-year-old Djokovic had yet to win any of his six Grand Slam titles. A great deal of water has passed under the bridge for both men since then.

“I am unbelievably proud every time I walk around the grounds here,” acknowledges Federer. “The fun for me is being able to do it at this age, with a family, with the team I have. We have a great relationship. Being here, doing this, is something I really, really enjoy.

I am extremely happy.

“I know I don’t have ten years left, so I’m just going to try to enjoy it as much as I can. The first one in 2003 was just a dream. To play so well here at Wimbledon has been unbelievable. That I have another chance to go through these kinds of emotions is great.”

So that’s Roger Federer. Keep an eye on him. One of these days, we may learn to see him as a contender.

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20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...

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