WIMBLEDON, England — In the end, Roger Federer’s record eighth Wimbledon singles title looked easy compared with some of the marathon finals he has had to win on this same patch of London grass.
But a race should not be judged only by the last hurdle. Federer had to get so many tough calls right through the years to get to his 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 rout of the ailing and forlorn Marin Cilic on Sunday, to this Wimbledon where Federer became the oldest men’s champion in the Open era and the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to sweep through the draw without dropping a set.
“You go through these waves of highs and lows and try to navigate through, and it’s not always simple,” Federer, 35, said in an interview as he walked between television studios in the corridors of the All England Club. “It’s actually quite difficult with the amount of things in my life. You’ve got to still stay focused at the end of the day, and I was able to do that.”
Unlike many elite athletes, Federer had a long-term plan from an early age to preserve his body, paying close attention to fitness with the trainer Pierre Paganini. Unlike many young tennis stars, Federer avoided overplaying, managing his schedule sagaciously.
But then he also had the exceptional talent, the technique and the internal drive and love of the process to get him through stormy weather. For now, 2017 has been nothing but blue skies and island breezes, a late-career joy ride that is all the more remarkable for surpassing Federer’s own expectations.
He has played two Grand Slam events, the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and won them both, increasing his record total of major men’s singles titles to 19.
Two of his biggest rivals, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, have unexpectedly faded, while Federer has continued to perform in Technicolor. This year he has a 31-2 record, including an 9-0 mark against top-10 players. He is 17-5 in tiebreakers, reflecting his seize-the-key-moment approach.
He is still ripping his backhand; still finding the corners of the box with his serve (he was not broken on Sunday); and, perhaps most important, still covering the court like a younger version of himself.
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to run through top-10 players the way I am, win all these breakers, win all these big moments,” said Federer, who will turn 36 next month. “This is what’s made the difference for me. I’ve won all the big matches this year. It’s unbelievable.”
When Federer returned to the tour in January after a six-month layoff, he genuinely believed he would not peak until April. But having a fine chance at Wimbledon was always part of the plan and motivation for heading back on the road with his wife, Mirka, and their four young children.
Wimbledon was the big goal. It is Federer’s favorite tournament, the one that suits his elegant, attacking game and his personality best; the one where he made his first big career move by upsetting the seven-time champion Pete Sampras in the 2001 quarterfinals. It is also the one where Federer won his first Grand Slam singles title, in 2003.
On Sunday, he broke his tie with Sampras and the 19th-century player William Renshaw by becoming the first man to win eight Wimbledon singles titles. (Martina Navratilova won the women’s event nine times.)
Federer said the men’s record was not a number he had in his sights when he was young.
“Winning eight is not something you can ever aim for, in my opinion,” he said. “If you do, I don’t know, you must have so much talent and parents and the coaches that push you from the age of 3 on, who think of you like a project. I was not that kid. I was just really a normal guy growing up in Basel, hoping to make a career on the tennis tour.”
He did eventually leave his home and his parents in his early teens to board at a tennis center in a French-speaking region of Switzerland. He struggled there emotionally for a time, but it turned out to be one of the many decisions that led him to become the champion that he is.
He made another right move before this Wimbledon, skipping the clay-court season and the French Open, which Rafael Nadal won for the 10th time, to be fresh and healthy for the grass.
It is perhaps no coincidence that two of Federer’s younger opponents — Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round and Cilic in the final — were hampered by physical problems, while Federer remained pain free, even if he did have to battle a summer cold throughout the event.
Cilic, 28 and seeded No. 7, overwhelmed Federer in the semifinals of the 2014 United States Open en route to the title. Cilic also had three match points against Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year before Federer prevailed in five sets.
An epic match on Sunday would have been no surprise. Instead, Cilic struggled with his consistency and his emotions. With a deep blister on his left foot that he said had limited his lateral movement, he began sobbing in his chair on a changeover while trailing, 0-3, in the second set, putting a white towel over his head as a physician and a trainer huddled around and attended to him.
He later explained that the tears were a result not of the pain but of the realization that he would be unable to perform at his best.
“Obviously, was very tough emotionally, because I know how much I went through the last few months in preparation with everything,” Cilic said. “It was also tough because of my own team. They did so much for me. I just felt it was really bad luck.”
He eventually returned to the court, receiving a roar of support from the Centre Court crowd. He then changed his tactics to serve-and-volley to avoid long, grinding rallies and preserve his foot. He held serve with an acrobatic backhand half-volley drop-shot winner to stop a Federer streak of five consecutive games.
But there was no halting Federer’s momentum even if Federer, unbeknown to his audience, was harboring a few doubts. “At two sets to love and 2-all, I was thinking I’m going to lose this set, because I have never won Wimbledon without losing a set,” he said.
But in this charmed season, not even negative thinking can stop the Federer juggernaut, and he eventually closed out the match with an ace. This time, there was no celebratory tumble to the grass, as in 2007 or 2012. Compared with the euphoria of this year’s Australian Open triumph, the sensation and his immediate reaction were more subdued.
“I agree,” Federer said, still walking in the corridors. “Australia was a totally different vibe. It was so unexpected. Here I was made the favorite already before the tournament, which I found quite strange, and then that sometimes unfortunately takes the edge away a little bit.”
There were still powerful emotions at work, and he was soon in tears of his own as he sat in his chair and looked in the direction of the players’ box, where his 3-year-old twin sons had joined his 7-year-old twin daughters.
Federer has shed plenty of tears of joy on Centre Court, but this moment caught him by surprise.
“That was really the first moment I had to myself out there,” he said. “And I guess that’s when it sunk in that, man, I was able to win Wimbledon again, and I broke a record, and my family is there to share it with me. I was hoping the boys were going to be there, too, not just the girls. And so I just felt so happy, and I guess I also realized how much I had put into it to be there. It was all those things together.”
So much does indeed have to go just right to win eight titles at a tennis temple like the All England Club — to produce a player like Federer who is built to win pretty but also built to last.
Culled from: New York Times