It’s not that Roger Federer is great, but that his greatness keeps going and going and going. He doesn’t get hurt because he floats above the court. He doesn’t give in. He doesn’t get old. And it’s amazing that he has never had enough.
He’s greedy about winning. It’s like he has an insatiable tennis libido or something.
Federer won Wimbledon on Sunday, beating Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
The key numbers are these: 17, 7 and 1. It was his 17th major championship, adding to his record. It was his record-tying (with Pete Sampras) seventh Wimbledon win.
And now, Federer jumps over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — two guys who had bypassed him — in the rankings. Roger Federer is No. 1 again.
“I knew how close I was for the last few years, and some people didn’t quite see that, maybe out of different reasons,’’ he said. “But I knew, and I think the belief got me to victory today.’’
As he held the championship cup, his first major in 2½ years, he said this: “Feels nice. Like it’s never left me.’’
Oh, it left him. Federer needed this championship badly. He carries the label of tennis GOAT (Greatest of All Time), even though he had been bypassed in his prime by Nadal. It was an uncomfortable mismatch for Federer’s legacy. And with Djokovic’s rise, the feeling was that Federer was fading.
So Federer needed this win. At 30, it re-establishes his legacy not only in tennis, but also in all of sports. He reshapes that legacy as one of the greatest athletes of all time.
“To represent tennis across sports has been nice, you know,’’ Federer said. “It’s nice to be compared to other sporting greats. … I drew a lot of inspirations from other great athletes in other sports. I think like Pete (Sampras) and (Stefan) Edberg and (Boris) Becker, I don’t know, maybe (Michael) Jordan, Tiger Woods, you name it, Valentino Rossi.
“They inspire me to keep on pushing further, not just being happy with world No. 1 or being happy with a Grand Slam title, but maybe to reach for more. Then obviously I have to drive myself. But you sometimes do need to see someone else do it for a long time so that you feel it is actually possible.’’
Federer and Woods are friends. And Tiger sent him a message afterward: “He was pumped up these last couple of days, you know, for me,’’ Federer said.
If Federer finds inspiration in other greats, maybe Woods will find it in what Federer did these past two weeks.
For Federer, it’s not just the numbers, but also the consistency. That has never been clearer than it is now. When Nadal lost in the second round to a journeyman, it emphasized that Federer never does that.
Nadal had almost no say in his match, as his opponent was swinging as hard as he could, mindlessly, and the shots were falling in like they never will again.
But Federer has reached the quarterfinals of 33 straight majors, covering more than eight years. And no one has ever had the match of his life against him? He has never had an injury cost him an early match? He never had a bad enough day to lose?
He never just didn’t feel like it.
I think Nadal’s best is better than Federer’s best. But Nadal is like a souped-up hot rod. Under perfect conditions, no one can beat him, including Federer. But if anything goes wrong, Nadal is thrown off.
That’s how Federer’s legacy can manage to stay ahead of Nadal’s. Federer handles conditions, adapts. That’s part of the GOAT argument.
On Sunday, the buildup here was about Murray, of course. He was trying to break a Chicago Cubs-like slump of Brits winning at Wimbledon.
Unfortunately for him, he also had to deal with a GOAT. (Cubs’ legend says a Greek curse was put on the team when a tavern owner was forced to remove his goat from a 1945 World Series game.)
Murray Mound, just outside Centre Court, was packed with thousands of fans who paid roughly $30 U.S. to sit and watch the match on a huge screen. Some fans wore British flags. Most came with a feeling of resignation. The place used to be known as Henman Hill, where fans without the money or connections to get into Centre Court sat for years cheering for England’s Tim Henman, who never won.
Do you believe, I asked one woman after the second set?
“Yes,’’ she said. “Someone has to.’’
The hill was quiet after the third set, getting loud with screamers only when the screen showed that TV cameras were on them. Some things are universal.
Murray is the fourth-best player in a sport dominated by three men. He cannot break through in a major. He recently hired Ivan Lendl, who also took forever to win a major, to be his coach.
Murray had mentioned LeBron James this past week, saying he drew inspiration from a player who took longer than expected to win. James tweeted this back to Murray on Saturday:
“Good luck @andy murray at Wimbledon tomorrow. Congrats on getn to the final. Honored by the shout out. Will be rooting for U.’’
The problem with Murray is that his play is too timid. He tries to think his way through a match too much. In the first set, though, he was attacking. At one point, Federer, who was at the net, hit a short ball, and Murray charged in and drilled it at Federer’s head.
Murray was there for the fight. But when Federer fought back, Murray couldn’t fight off his own tendencies. By the fourth set, he was just keeping the ball in play, hoping Federer would miss.
You can’t beat Federer that way. Afterward, Murray sobbed as he congratulated Federer and thanked fans over the PA. He then quietly apologized to Federer, saying he wasn’t trying to steal attention.
Federer, who has cried after losing majors before, told Murray that the match is supposed to be the hard part, but sometimes it’s the post-match speeches. They laughed together.
In the end, Federer said that he knew his losses were just temporary.
He seems to think he’s going to start winning again. I wouldn’t count on that, honestly. But that doesn’t matter now. No matter what happens now, Federer’s legacy — like his tennis libido, apparently — is permanent.