Roger Federer can now be called the king of kings. Age does not wither his charm or custom stale his infinite variety. The grace, easy elegance and variety of shots that he displayed in demolishing Marin Cilic in the 2017 Wimbledon final were awesome to behold. The Centre Court of the All England Club is his theatre of dreams—eight of his record 19 Grand Slam titles have been won here.
His display is even more remarkable, as he is just a month short of his 36th birthday and made a comeback, after a six month lay-off last year due to injury. As his vanquished semifinal opponent Tomas Berdych right said, “Federer doesn’t really seem to be getting older.”
He can justifiably be called not only the greatest player on grass courts but arguably the greatest tennis player ever. Federer can now rank with Mohammed Ali, Pele, Diego Maradona and Usain Bolt as one of the greatest sportsman of all time. His longevity, poise and domination of the Wimbledon Centre Court (11 finals) make him a sporting legend.
By winning his 19th title in his 29th Grand Slam final, the artful Swiss maestro has set records which could last forever. He won his eighth Wimbledon title without dropping a set emulating Bjorn Borg in 1976. Federer also won the 2007 Australian Open without dropping a set. Federer and Bjorg (French Open in 1978 and 1980) are the only two men to have won two different Grand Slam titles without dropping a set.
At 35 years and 11 months, he is the oldest male Grand Slam winner. However, it is not just the records that make him special but his demeanour and ability to play breathtaking shots when under pressure. Even in defeat he has been glorious. His five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final, is considered one of the greatest tennis matches ever.
The 15,000-crowd at Wimbledon’s Centre Court has mixed feelings watching him play. The majority has always supported Federer (except in the 2012 final, when he defeated Andy Murray). They want him to win but his game is such an aesthetic delight that they wish to watch him for as long as possible. He is universally liked. The 2017 women singles champion Muguruza supported Federer as she wanted to dance with him at the Champion’s Ball!
What makes Federer unique is his all-round game. His supremacy on grass court is not because of a single dominating factor. He does not have a booming service like say Boris Becker or Goran Ivanisevic or the serve-and-volley brilliance of Pete Sampras, Pat Cash or Stefan Edberg or the top-spin control of Borg. Federer is the perfect all-rounder and has the qualities of all the greats of the past. He has a clinical service (eight aces in the final against Cilic), is commanding at the net, volleys exquisitely when required, plays delectable drop shots and his single handed backhand cross shots and forehand down the line shots from the back are devastating. He has a complete game.
His appeal is even greater, as he has an average height and build. He is 6'1'', which would have been fine for an earlier generation but in modern tennis, players are getting taller (Cilic and Querrey) and stronger (Milos Raonic). It is the quality of his strokeplay rather than an imposing physique or booming service that makes him an all-time great.
His longevity is because he has radically pruned his schedule. After winning the Australian Open in January 2017, he avoided the entire clay court season. Wimbledon was just his seventh event of the year, for Cilic it was his 15th event. Realising that age takes a toll, he is opting for a restricted schedule and playing the tournaments he can win, which could extend his career.