Roger Federer failed to conjure up the perfect finish to the Wimbledon Championships, but he once again proved that he belonged on tennis’ greatest stage when he ran Novak Djokovic close in an enthralling five-set classic at the All England Club.
Sadly, it was a missed opportunity to win an unbelievable 18th Grand Slam; a missed opportunity to win an unprecedented eighth Wimbledon crown.
When a teary Djokovic hoisted the trophy aloft, Federer’s thoughts must have shifted to what might have been and – probably – what never will be.
It was the perfect chance to win his first Major since the 2012 Wimbledon final, but he fell narrowly short. The upshot is that the former world number one will almost certainly sign off, whether that be in one month or five years, with a record 17 Grand Slams. Not too shabby.
But it could have been so different. Mild hope evolved into genuine belief on Centre Court as Federer shrugged off a mini lull to roar back into contention at two sets apiece. The momentum was with the former omnipresent world number one.
Unforced errors are normally a by-product of high-risk tennis, but both players somehow maintained their composure to share the opening eight games in the deciding set as the match threatened to rumble on into the night.
Djokovic survived his fifth service game of the set; Federer did not. The Serb’s ability to forget about his fourth set collapse was rewarded as he triumphantly fell onto the grass.
The tournament was set up perfectly for Federer. The threatening seeds tumbled in the latter stages as Andy Murray imploded in the quarter-finals and Rafa Nadal’s disappointing streak on grass continued. It just was not meant to be.
The Swiss maestro will be one month shy of his 34th birthday when next year’s Wimbledon – still Federer’s best chance to claim Slam no. 18 – rolls around.
Only two men older than Federer – Ken Rosewall (37) and Andres Gimeno (34) – have managed to win a Major. Neither managed it at Wimbledon.
With the big four of men’s tennis on the decline, attention has shifted to the emerging generation of talent. Grigor Dimitrov, 23, impressed in reaching the semi-finals this time around while Kei Nishikori, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic also showed promise at SW19.
Can an ageing Federer defeat the sprightly and improving youngsters next time around – and keep it up for seven matches? It’s unlikely.
But people demanding that he retires to protect his legacy as one of the game’s greats should not be listened to. He still loves the game, judging from his courtside interview after the pulsating final.
If he can continue his rejuvenation under coach Stefan Edberg then why shouldn’t he continue? You are allowed to play and lose – especially if you have the appeal of Federer and ability to produce a few ‘wow’ moments along the way.
It’s just a shame that one of the greatest players to grace the game – perhaps the greatest – won’t get the final chance to cap a monumental career with an 18th and final Grand Slam title.
Ben Snowball - on Twitter: @BenSnowball
- Sports & Recreation
- Roger Federer
- Novak Djokovic