Roger Federer’s genius, cosseted and covered by the roof for the last two sets, dashed the hopes of an expectant nation as he beat Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win Wimbledon for the seventh time and return to No. 1 in the world.
“I thought I had a great chance. Roger’s 30; how good can he be?” said Murray, forcing humor through the tears that would soon engulf him as he spoke to the Centre Court crowd that had cheered him throughout the match and with increasing intensity and emotion at the end.
Considering the hype that surrounded this final and the level of anticipation the media had created as Murray attempted to become the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the title, it was a miracle that Andy could perform at all.
Yet the 25-year-old Scot, playing in his fourth Grand Slam tournament final, acquitted himself well and came close to establishing a two-set lead when he had two break points on Federer’s serve at 4-4, 15-40.
Until then, Murray had been marginally the better player. But, having survived that game, Federer uncorked two flashes of genius that enabled him to grab the set from 30-all in the 12th game. Having struck a great winner, the grass-court maestro maneuvered his way through a long rally, created an opening with an angled backhand and got in to score with a lovely touch volley.
The crowd was stunned. Where did that come from? It came from the man who keeps on producing tennis from the gods, no matter what his age, no matter what the opposition, no matter what the setting. And, of course, there is no setting that suits Federer better than this famous court. The only way they could have made it better for him was to build a roof and have it rain on finals day.
He had actually started the match looking far more nervous than a very composed Murray. But by the time he was saving those break points, a big black cloud was approaching, and it arrived as a gift for the Swiss. There is no way of knowing how the match would have turned out had not play been stopped for half an hour with Federer serving at 1-1, 40-0, in the third set. But the overwhelming opinion among all the experts present was that the roof would favor Federer.
“He’s an attacking player. And without the wind, you can take risks and go for the lines,” said three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker.
Federer himself said he was able to concentrate more on tactics rather than the elements when the court was closed.
“You were fighting the elements before,” he said. “Downwind, to the right of the umpire’s chair was difficult. But with the roof closed, I was able to take it more to Andy, go out and fetch victory more than he did.”
Nobody fetches victory quite like Federer, and once he had come out on top — after an amazing sixth game of the third set that contained 10 deuces and saw Murray save five break points before putting a backhand wide on the sixth — the outcome was never really in doubt.
To his credit, Murray continued to fight and did get a break point on the Federer serve in the second game of the fourth. But he erred on the forehand and the last chance was gone. He was broken for 3-2, and then we were presented with a demonstration of why critics were so wrong to write off this extraordinary athlete who plays with such smooth precision and economy of effort that he almost never gets injured.
Federer now has played 51 consecutive Grand Slam events, having last missed one during the 1999 US Open. He has won 17 of them of them and has not lost before the quarterfinals since the French Open of 2004. That is a staggering record that will be almost impossible to beat. By returning to No. 1, he equals the 286 weeks that Pete Sampras occupied the top spot and will surpass it in two weeks’ time.
Basically, the man is supreme.
But Wimbledon has always been special for Federer for reasons he cannot quite explain.
“I feel better here for some reason,” he said. “It’s a very unique and special place. It’s as if I’m supposed to play well here.”
Federer made a point of commiserating with his opponent. As they stood side by side at the presentation ceremony, he told Murray that this was supposed to be the easy part but, as he well knew, it wasn’t. Federer had dissolved into floods of tears after losing to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in 2009.
“I could understand what he was going through,” Federer said. “I know. I’ve been there. But I think he’s done so, so well to handle the pressure; so perfectly, to be quite honest. I really do believe he will win a Slam soon.”
Murray tried not to be too hard on himself.
“I thought I played a pretty good match,” he said. “Roger played very well, the last two sets especially. It’s the best I’ve played in a Slam final. I created chances. Not as if I was giving away bad games or stupid games. But it’s still tough. I would be playing the wrong sport if I wasn’t emotional about it.”
Federer and Murray can take some time off now — but not too much. In three weeks, they will be back to compete on these same courts at the Olympics, and no one would be surprised to see both of them among the medals.