Unbeatable Federer plays the best match of his life
SOMETIMES there is a touch of tedium about the successful defence of a tennis title, especially when it is by the No 1 seed. Never, however, when the man in question is Roger Federer.
The 2003 and 2004 champion made it three Wimbledon singles titles in a row yesterday, crushing Andy Roddick in straight sets with a devastating virtuoso display which at times approached perfection. Federer won 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 in an hour and 41 minutes to enhance his claim to be regarded as one of the greatest players ever. On this form, he is unbeatable.
In the modern era, only Bjorn Borg, with five wins in a row, and Pete Sampras, with seven in an eight-year spell, can lay claim to greater domination. Yet there was always something restrained about the way Borg played, something unimaginative about Sampras's style. Federer, by contrast, is an aesthete's delight.
Some of the strokes he plays seem obvious - that is, after they have won the point. His genius lies in the fact that few others would become aware of those options on time, far less be able to execute them.
There have been great rivalries in tennis between a pair of leading players, as there have been in other sports. No-one, however, is anywhere close right now to providing Federer with the spur to improvement which such rivalries bring.
In the semi-finals he played Lleyton Hewitt, the No 3 seed. He won in straight sets. Yesterday he dismissed Roddick, the No 2 seed, just as emphatically. He lost only a single set in the tournament, to Nicolas Kiefer of Germany in the third round. And that was on a tie-break.
His winning run on grass is now 36 matches, five behind Borg's open-era record. If he wins next year's Wimbledon warm-up tournament in Halle, as he has also done for the last three years, he will not even have to win next year's final here to set a new record. Betting against him doing so, however, is inadvisable: minutes after his victory yesterday, bookmakers were quoting the shortest odds ever on a champion holding on to his crown in a year's time.
A modest and respectful man, Federer nonetheless had to acknowledge the special nature of his performances here. "Obviously over the next few years I will be a huge favourite," he said.
"It was hard for Andy because I played a fantastic match, one of the best of my life. Today it seemed like I was playing flawless.
"Everything was working. I don't think Andy will look back with too much regret on this match, because I really played as good as I could."
All the same, he is aware more than anyone of the hard work that goes into such dominance, and is conscious that even the slightest slippage from his current standards could allow those who trail in his wake to get far closer to him. "I played such good tennis today I didn't allow him to come into the match," he stated. "But I maybe have to play a little less good and all of a sudden maybe the match is a lot different."
The thing that marks Federer apart, however, is that he so rarely plays "a little less good". True, he did not win either of the first two Grand Slams of the year, in Australia and France, but certainly on grass he displays a relentless consistency.
And it is not even as if his opponents, being aware of this, are defeated in their minds before they start. Hewitt insisted after the semi that his loss was all on court and not at all in his own head, and similarly, Roddick showed no sign of being demoralised.
In fact, the American did not play badly at all. The start of the match, in which the first 11 points went with serve, showed that both men had clicked into gear instantly. In the opening five games, in fact, only one point went against serve - when Federer was serving at 1-1 - and in the fourth game all Roddick's serves were unreturnable.
Once Federer had taken a 3-2 lead, however, he decided the time was right to force a break. His increased efforts are virtually imperceptible: unlike other players, he does not grunt more loudly or otherwise make a fuss. But they are devastatingly effective.
From losing the first point, Roddick was in trouble. He saved one break point then had advantage, but when faced with a second break point he succumbed to the pressure, sending a forehand long. Federer served to love again to take a 5-2 lead, then in the next game took the set with an inspired return.
The No 2 seed from Nebraska did not take long to hit back, seizing his opportunity at the first sign of weakness from his opponent in the second set. It was a minute sign at that - the loss of the first point in the third game - but Roddick made the most of it. He then went 3-1 ahead but Federer broke back in the sixth game from where the set proceeded to the tiebreak.
Curiously for a match in which both men were serving so strongly, after Federer had opened for a 1-0 lead six points in a row went against serve. That put Federer 5-2 ahead, and from there he closed out, taking the next two points easily. Apart from the break he lost in the second, the only time Federer's game went slightly flat was at the start of the third set, which was delayed by some 20 minutes for the slightest fall of rain. Even below his best, though, he was still more than comfortably trading games with Roddick.
Then, from 3-3, the world No 1 upped the pressure. It was predictable, but irresistible, and Roddick was broken again. He held his serve securely to stay in the match at 5-4, but Federer would be delayed no longer. He threw in two aces at the start of the tenth game as if to remind Roddick that the end would be not be postponed, then a minute later, having won on his first matchpoint, he fell flat on his back for a few seconds, sobbing briefly out of sheer relief as he had done last year.
On that occasion Roddick had taken the first set before losing in four, but since then the gap has grown between Federer and the rest. It is an ominous thought that, still only 23, he could keep on getting better for some time to come.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North