Federer wills Djokovic out of Wimbledon
July 6, 2012 · Print This Article
by: Lyra Pappin
The story didn’t have to go this way. It didn’t have to be that Roger Federer is entering his eighth Wimbledon final and landing a chance to become world number one. There could have been an upset. He could have lost in the second round, like long-time rival and French Open champion, Rafael Nadal. He could have pulled out with an injury; he is turning 31 soon and his body simply can’t take it. He could have lost in the semi-final to world number one Novak Djokovic. He’d never done that before, he had never lost in a Wimbledon semi-final, so it would have been perfectly acceptable. His game is on the decline, his age is a hindrance and his will is worn.
Except, it isn’t.
Against the odds and one year shy of the 10th anniversary of his first major win, his first Wimbledon title, Roger Federer will again appear on centre court on Sunday afternoon in England where he could win his seventh Wimbledon title and a record 17th major.
Entering the tournament, Federer didn’t bother with humble predictions or false modesty. Telling reporters, “It’s my time of year now,” at the onset of the fortnight, Federer made his intentions clear. He followed suit on court, moving with typical ease and grace through opponents. A brief hitch by way of Frenchman Julien Benneteau saw Federer make an uncharacteristic dig into a five set match, proving further that he was not interested in taking a spectator’s view of the trophy ceremonies. He wasn’t sweating it, either. “It was like he’s still such a long a way from the finish line,” Federer said of Benneteau’s two-set lead. “There is no reason right now to go crazy about it. Let’s see how the third starts and then we’ll take it from there. Like I said, I have been there so many times that I also know how to handle the situation.”
Frightening news for his opponents: confidence drawn from the domination of his winning record has been bolstered by experience with losing. In direct contrast to Federer’s disdain with what he deemed a “lucky shot” from Djokovic on match point during the 2011 US Open semi-final, he is embracing a looseness that results in a tighter stranglehold for those facing him. “I’m pretty relaxed, you know… Maybe I am the way I am today because I used to be completely nuts on the tennis court before. So I was able to turn that around and now, yeah, I know it’s just a tennis match.”
Whatever he says, anyone who sees Federer play finds it hard to describe what he does on the courts as “just a tennis match”. During the surprisingly efficient handling of Djokovic in the 2012 Wimbledon semi-final, Federer did everything right. He served with precision, exercised control in his shot selection and moved through the court with speed and vigour. Djokovic looked flustered, unprepared and bewildered. At times, he looked resigned. It would be a mistake to chalk this up to a bad day for the world number one. Djokovic is fit, dangerous and skilled. Questions as to whether he could surpass Federer in records, titles and perhaps take a run at the Greatest Of All Time moniker were asked with legitimacy during his superlative 2011 rise to number one. Djokovic looked bad on the court during that semi-final in London on Friday because Federer made him look bad; he took a page from the Serb’s will to succeed and set his mind to it, a novel approach for the Swiss champion. Federer, for all his talent, is stubborn. He expects to win and he expects his opponents to comply. During this Wimbledon semi-final, he set that attitude aside and took to defeating Djokovic with hungry determination. For Federer, the relentlessness paid off.
In his post-match interview, there was no trace of coldness and Federer looked a decade younger, his eyes teary with a raw gratefulness not often seen from the most famous man in tennis. For so long, Federer was used to getting what he wanted. Winning is a reward that became harder to hold and as the trophies and finals began to elude him consistently, he was transported back in time, back 10 years when he was climbing the rope to number one, two steps forward, one step back. Talent never questioned, but results never guaranteed. Finally, he’s reached a point where the goal is again in sight: a Wimbledon title, and with it, a second chance at a number one. Or as Roger puts it, just another tennis match.
For more on Wimbledon, follow Lyra Pappin on Twitter at @lyrapappin.