An unprecedented eighth Wimbledon trophy won, a staggering 19 grand slam titles collected, another £2.2 million added to his £80m prize money kitty – is there anything that Roger Federer cannot do?
Apparently, there is. He is not much cop at drinking. As the greatest player tennis has ever seen returned to the All England Club yesterday morning, he was feeling a little delicate. He had been to the Champions’ Dinner the night before and then, together with his friends and family, he had kicked on to a bar. And then it all got a bit messy.
“My head’s ringing,” he said, looking remarkably good for a man with a stinking hangover. “I don’t know what I did last night. I drank too many types of drinks, I guess. After the dinner we went to – what would you call it? I guess it’s a bar – and there were almost 30 to 40 friends that were there. So we had a great time. Got to bed at five, then woke up, and just didn’t feel good. The last hour or so I’m somewhat OK again.”
A year ago, after he lost here in the semi-finals, the thought that he could be sitting with the Wimbledon trophy in his hands again, that he could come to SW19 as the 2017 Australian Open champion and that he could be homing in on Andy Murray’s No 1 ranking seemed like an impossible dream.
He already had 17 major titles to his name, he was about to turn 35 and his body needed time to recover from nearly two decades of graft on the tour. He did not play again for the rest of the year.
But Federer believed that he still had more to give, if he could get his body fit enough and healthy enough to play as he knew he could. That he could play such aggressive, free-flowing tennis to win in Melbourne surprised him; that he could keep so mentally strong and calm when the pressure of history was weighing on him at Wimbledon pleased him. But what is there left to aim for now?
“The target now is to enjoy being Wimbledon champion for a year,” he said. “I haven’t sets sights on a number of grand slams that I have to or want to achieve.
“I never really had that; I was very content at 17 [grand slam titles], I must tell you. Of course, I was going to be happier at 18 and I’m even happier at 19. But 17 was a wonderful number so I think for me it’s just about enjoying myself, staying healthy and then we’ll see what happens.
“I’m playing for titles at this stage in my career; rankings not so much unless I’m as close as I am right now so I just have to check the situation – if it’s worth it to run after it or not. I just have to be clever with my body.”
Federer has risen to No 3 in the world rankings and sits a little more than 1,200 points behind Murray at the top. With no points to defend for the next six months, he could overtake the Scot in the next few weeks. Then again, Rafael Nadal, the world No 2, is fewer than 300 points behind Murray and so is only inches away from world domination.
The fact that Federer, less than a month away from his 36th birthday, and Nadal at 31 are chasing the 30-year-old Murray for top billing, with 30-year-old Novak Djokovic just behind them, is both a source of pride for the Swiss and a cause for concern.
The “Next Gen” players, the new raft of talent currently being promoted by the ATP, do not have the physical or mental wherewithal to beat the Big Four yet; the “Lost Gen” – the likes of Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Ernests Gulbis – seem to have missed their chance. And, as Federer becomes more attacking as he gets older and the rest of the Big Four add more weapons and nuances to their game, it does not look as if the pecking order is likely to change any time soon. In Federer’s view, it is up to the coaches to start pulling their weight.
“You have to hit a lot of good shots to come through a Murray or a Djokovic and especially over five sets,” Federer said. “It catches up with you. A slugfest with Andy from the baseline or Rafa for that matter, good luck, if you are No 50 in the world, it is not so simple to take him out.
“Maybe but they can choose not to play that way, too, if the coach has taught them to play differently. I know you can easily get sucked into that mode when you don’t want to attack, but if you can’t volley, you are not going to go to the net.
“I have played almost every player here that wouldn’t serve and volley. It’s frightening to me to see this at this level. I wish that we would see more coaches, more players taking chances up at the net because good things do happen there.”