Fed­erer al­ways finds a way

The Barrie Examiner - - SPORTS - Switzer­land’s Roger Fed­erer re­turns to Czech Repub­lic’s To­mas Berdych dur­ing their Men’s Sin­gles semi­fi­nal match at the Wim­ble­don Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don on Fri­day.

One of my favourite de­scrip­tions of Roger Fed­erer came from Gael Mon­fils, partly be­cause the won­der­fully odd French­man speaks English in a way that gets his point across with an econ­omy of words.

It was at the U.S. Open a few sum­mers ago, and Mon­fils had two match points against the Swiss leg­end that Fed­erer, then 33, had dis­patched with a cou­ple of spec­tac­u­lar win­ners. Mon­fils said that he was mad at him­self af­ter miss­ing the close-out chance and he lost his con­cen­tra­tion for a few min­utes: “And Roger just jump on me. He could easy.” Fed­erer, sens­ing the mo­ment, threw the full mae­stro at his op­po­nent. Base­line shots, serve­and-vol­ley, charge the net one point and sit back the next. “That’s why he’s the great­est player, be­cause he can do ev­ery­thing,” Mon­fils said. “You know, he just feel good.”

Fed­erer, who will turn 36 in three weeks, hasn’t been the great­est player on the men’s side for some time, not in this re­mark­able era when two of the other very bestever types are also toil­ing. The last time he was ranked num­ber one in the world was al­most five years ago. But Fed­erer has also taken a large step to­ward yet an­other un­likely ex­cla­ma­tion point on his ab­surd ca­reer with his win over To­mas Berdych on Fri­day that puts him back in the Wim­ble­don fi­nal. Although ex­cla­ma­tion point is per­haps not the right term for it, be­cause it de­notes the end of some­thing. Ev­ery time we start say­ing things about Fed­erer and twi­light, the guy finds a way to make the skies lighten again.

If he can beat Marin Cilic on Sun­day — no small feat — Fed­erer will claim his 19th Grand Slam ti­tle, which would ex­tend his own record on the men’s side and give him two this sea­son alone, af­ter his amaz­ing win over Rafael Nadal in the dream fi­nal in Melbourne in Jan­uary. It would also mean his time along­side Jack Nick­laus in the “18 ma­jors” club would be sur­pris­ingly brief, which doesn’t mean much other than as fod­der for trivia.

But there is one way in which the com­par­i­son to golf does have some use. Even when it looked like an ob­vi­ous cer­tainty that Tiger Woods would sur­pass Nick­laus in ma­jor wins, there was an ar­gu­ment in Jack’s favour that he did all his win­ning in an era of gi­ants. He played against Palmer and Player, then Wat­son and Balles­teros, while Woods, as good as he was, never had a true ri­val. Fed­erer’s great­ness has been much more of the Nick­laus ver­sion. He has won more big tour­na­ments than any­one, but he has fin­ished near the top more than any­one, even as No­vak Djokovic and Nadal con­ducted their own as­saults on the record books. Fed­erer’s 18 Grand Slam ti­tles are all the more ab­surd when you con­sider that they came as those other two guys were win­ning a com­bined 27 of their own. Fed­erer’s march to the fi­nals in Lon­don gives him a record 29th ap­pear­ance in a Grand Slam fi­nal and a record 11th ap­pear­ance in the Wim­ble­don fi­nal. In both cases, he was merely ex­tend­ing his own record.

Once you start ex­am­in­ing Fed­erer’s records, it can get a lit­tle dizzy­ing. He’s been in more Slam semi­fi­nals (42) and quar­ter­fi­nals (50) than any­one, and he once ap­peared in an in­sane 23 straight Grand Slam semis. Think about how hard that is: al­most six full sea­sons where he made the fi­nal four in each of the four big­gest tour­na­ments on the cal­en­dar. Fed­erer’s win over Berdych also ex­tended his record of ca­reer Slam sin­gles wins to 320. Djokovic is next at 237. If Fed­erer wins on Sun­day, that would give him ex­actly 84 more Slam wins than Djokovic, which means that Fed­erer could re­tire on Mon­day and Djokovic could win the next 12 ma­jors — seven wins each — and he would just tie his ca­reer mark. I am 650 words in here, and I am fresh out of su­perla­tives.

For all the record-mak­ing, though, what makes Fed­erer such a joy to watch is not the ti­tles, or the con­sis­tency, or his freak­ish re­nais­sance at a rel­a­tively ad­vanced age, it’s that thing that Mon­fils al­luded to back when he had been dusted off in New York. Fed­erer can do ev­ery­thing. He’s not par­tic­u­larly big or par­tic­u­larly fast, he doesn’t over­whelm with a big serve or sit back and chase down ev­ery base­line shot like a metronome. He just makes shots. He makes all the shots. Against Berdych on Fri­day, hav­ing eked out the first two sets in tiebreak­ers, Fed­erer found him­self fac­ing two break points in an on­serve third set. He pro­ceeded to rip off 12 of the next 14 points, sav­ing his ser­vice game, break­ing Berdych, and hold­ing his serve again. Five min­utes, tops, and the place in the fi­nal was all but booked.

Peak Fed­erer, the guy that won 11 of his ma­jors from 2004-2007, cruised so of­ten that he has said it took him un­til late in his ca­reer to know what it was like to lose. He said af­ter beat­ing Mon­fils in 2014 that he wasn’t sure if he had ever saved a match point in a Slam be­fore. Which, I mean, come on.

In the never-end­ing dusk of Roger Fed­erer, he has learned how to lose. But he hasn’t for­got­ten how to win, ei­ther.

KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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