Five thoughts on Roger Federer’s five-set, third-round victory over Julien Benneteau at Wimbledon:
Put a roof over Wimbledon and there doesn’t seem to be the same reverence for the elite as when we’re alfresco (“people were freaking out,” Roger Federer said of the crowd, but he also could have been talking about the players). Shut out the summer and you don’t just change the acoustics of ball on string. Life just feels different when Wimbledon goes inside; the conditions of play change when the lights and the air-conditioning units are flicked on, but that’s not all that’s new; Centre Court isn’t the same place. For some reason, there’s greater social mobility under a roof. Maybe that’s because, when the surroundings change, so do the mindsets of the ‘lesser’ players; Federer has won a lot of matches on an open-air Centre Court but not so many under a roof.
The fifth and final set of Rafael Nadal’s defeat by the world No 100, Lukas Rosol, came under a closed roof. A day later, all five of the sets that Federer and Julien Benneteau played – the Swiss had to come from two sets down to stay in the Championships – were played indoors. Federer was just two points away from going out before the middle weekend. “That was a tough match, oh my god,” Federer said, and had Benneteau been in better physical shape in the fifth set this could have got very interesting. Wimbledon is known for being an outdoor, daytime tournament. The elite are known for going deep into every slam. But nothing everything is how it usually is this summer. Blame the roof. Thank the roof.
Had Federer lost, it would have been the first time that he and Nadal had failed to reach the second week of a grand slam (when both played the slam).
Had Federer lost, you would have heard a lot of voices saying that the Swiss will never win another Wimbledon, that his chances of equalling Pete Sampras on seven titles had gone forever.
Had Federer lost, would there have been a louder post-match debate about the use of the roof, given that the first four sets of this match could have been played outside? It wasn’t raining. Only the fifth set required a roof, because of the gloom.
When the roof was built, people thought it would help Andy Murray. That’s because he has played some of the best tennis of his career indoors. Here’s what we didn’t predict; that it could help him by harming others; that other contenders for the title would have such difficulties on floodlit grass.