Five thoughts on Roger Federer’s semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.
So Roger Federer, sodium-white flashes of brilliance coming off his strings, is now just three sets away from regaining the two things dearest to him in tennis: the Wimbledon title and the world No 1 ranking (that will also be the order he puts them in his head). Federer hasn’t been the Wimbledon champion since the summer of 2009 and he hasn’t been the world number one since the spring of 2010. That could all change on Centre Court on Sunday. Federer’s victory over Novak Djokovic immediately had you thinking once again about lawn tennis’s greatest bromance, and how a win for Federer at the weekend which put him level with his friend Pete Sampras on two counts: a record number of Wimbledon titles on seven, and a record time spent at the top of the rankings at 286 weeks. Federer didn’t come to London this summer to model RF knitwear and to watch Djokovic retain his title. Federer is into an eighth Wimbledon final, and he will play an opponent making his first appearance on the second Sunday of the Championships.
If Federer had a Swiss Franc for every time that someone said he was finished as a force at the slams, he might even make half what he earns from his off-court endorsements. Federer’s last grand slam victory came two and a half years ago, at the 2010 Australian Open. So victory at the weekend would be the sweetest way to formally end suggestions that Federer has been marginalised by Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Here on Centre Court, Federer was demonstrating that it might just be possible in modern tennis for someone the wrong side of 30, and a father too, to win a grand slam tournament. The most successful man in tennis history, with 16 slams already, is still out there proving himself.
There were a fair number of observers who didn’t see this coming. On the morning of the match, it was tricky to find anyone in the tennis commentariat predicting with any great certainty that Federer would win. The reasons given were: Djokovic’s form; Federer’s back problems; the slower conditions under a closer roof favoured the Serbian. The result was surprising, and the nature of this match was even more. Though Federer and Djokovic have played more matches against each other than any other pair in history – this was their 11th meeting at the majors – it was the first occasion they had played on the Wimbledon grass. If Federer is going to play Djokovic anywhere in tennis, he wants to play him on this rectangle of grass in south-west London. That they were on Centre Court went some way to explaining the quality of Federer’s tennis.
Djokovic’s tennis was ordinary at times. “Federer wanted it more than Djokovic,” said the watching John McEnroe. (Djokovic would afterwards say he hadn’t been “feeling great” for the best part of a week.)
If Federer plays like this on Sunday, it is going to take an astonishing performance to stop him becoming the All England Lawn Tennis Club Single-Handed Champion of the World.