Roger Fed­erer wins

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHUCK CULPEP­PER

The Swiss star be­came the old­est Wimbledon cham­pion of the open era at age 35 with his eighth vic­tory.

wimbledon, eng­land — Wimbledon ended in a mud­dle.

Mo­men­tously, Roger Fed­erer surfed an­other crest in a stag­ger­ing ca­reer. La­mentably, he did so while his gi­ant op­po­nent reeled with one of the lousi­est lit­tle things in all of hu­man life: a foot blis­ter.

Mo­men­tously, Fed­erer, who won Wimbledon at 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 30, won it again Sunday at 35, fur­ther cram­ming his name into a men’s ten­nis record book where it ap­pears al­most as ram­pantly as it would in a bi­og­ra­phy. La­mentably, it came with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 match that quickly de­flated and then ca­reened un­til Marin Cilic got to a changeover in the sec­ond set and sobbed.

Mo­men­tously, Fed­erer snared a male-record eighth Wimbledon sin­gles ti­tle, be­came the old­est Wimbledon cham­pion of the Open era, be­came the old­est Grand Slam cham­pion since Ken Rose­wall in 1972 and said, “My he­roes walked the grounds here and walked the courts here.” La­mentably, Cilic, 28, came off two re­cent-years Grand Slam matches with Fed­erer in which Cilic was the bet­ter player all told, and wound up say­ing he wept over “a feel­ing that I knew that I can­not give my best on the court, that I can­not give my best game and my best ten­nis, es­pe­cially at this stage of my ca­reer, at such a big match.”

And: “I know how much it took for me to get here.”

Fed­erer cor­ralled a record 19th Grand Slam ti­tle (ahead of the 15 for sec­ond-place Rafael Nadal), took a sec­ond Grand Slam this sea­son and ar­ranged for an ar­rival in New York in late Au­gust with a stun­ning yet re­al­is­tic chance at 20, which would have seemed far­fetched only six months ago. Yet he did so with a muted re­sponse to his 114-mph ace up the mid­dle on match point, for the out­come long since had con­gealed.

What con­fu­sion. Even Cen­tre Court stopped its cus­tom­ary wor­ry­ing for Fed­erer and be­gan to try to bol­ster the help­less Cilic, a nov­elty given that it joins the world’s many are­nas that tilt so un­apolo­get­i­cally to­ward Fed­erer that he seems to have a bushel of na­tion­al­i­ties, and given how it verged on ob­nox­ious last year in help­ing

Fed­erer re­bound from two sets and three match points down to edge Cilic. So sparse had Cilic’s bursts of ex­cel­lence be­come through the match that at times, a 2014 U.S. Open cham­pion ranked No. 6 in the world looked chal­lenged even to get a ball in play.

“I want to thank the phys­ios here,” Cilic said with his re­puted grace, call­ing them by first names. “They helped. The last 30 hours, they were just con­stantly al­most with me. They did as much as they could, but un­for­tu­nately I still feel the pain. Ev­ery time I had to do a re­ac­tion fast, fast change of move­ment, I was un­able to do that.”

But then, it fit that this Wimbledon would go out limp­ing, for it had staged a two-week limp-fest, es­pe­cially on the male end. It be­came an epit­ome of the hard­ness of the game upon the hu­man frame in the late 2010s. Seven play­ers re­tired in first-round matches, one in the sec­ond round, one in the third, one in the quar­ter­fi­nals. Two gi­ants, No­vak Djokovic and Andy Murray, looked hurt enough that their po­ten­tial U.S. Open par­tic­i­pa­tion al­ready lurks in ques­tion.

Yet atop the bale of ban­dages stood a 35-year-old global star, 12 months af­ter he, too, left Wimbledon steeped in un­cer­tainty and shut down the rest of his 2016 sea­son. Yet in a dream­scape he called “a fairy tale,” he won the 2017 Aus­tralian Open and now combed through Wimbledon in a min­i­mum 19 sets (with a re­tire­ment mixed in). A mar­vel who won Wimbledon 14 long years ago as a 21-year-old in a pony­tail over which he winces nowa­days could speak from an im­pos­si­ble sum­mit.

“Win­ning eight is not some­thing you can ever aim for, in my opin­ion,” he said. “If you do, I don’t know, you must have so much tal­ent and par­ents and the coaches that push you from the age of 3 on, who think you’re like a project. I was not that kid. I was re­ally just a nor­mal guy grow­ing up in Basel [Switzer­land], hop­ing to make a ca­reer on the ten­nis tour. I guess I dreamed, I be­lieved, and re­ally hoped that I could ac­tu­ally maybe re­ally do it, you know, to make it real.”

By the time he reached his record 11th Wimbledon fi­nal to Cilic’s first, the usual 15,000 fans and the usual roughly 14,900 Fed­erer con­nois­seurs set­tled in for com­pe­ti­tion and the treats that al­ways bolt or dance from Fed­erer’s racket. They got a lim­ited ra­tion of the lat­ter.

A dandy point came in Cilic’s ser­vice game at 2-2 and love-15 in the first set, when both play­ers wound up near the net, Cilic played a cun­ning back­hand cross to the dou­bles line, and Fed­erer re­trieved that to direct it into the open court to rous­ing ap­plause. A Fed­erer back­hand drop shot in the seventh game seemed to yearn for a string quar­tet at court­side. It flut­tered neatly over the net and sat down to ac­cept its ap­plause. At 3-5, 30-all, with Cilic serv­ing, two Fed­erer back­hands in a row seemed so rocket-launched that the crowd gasped in an at­tempt to com­pre­hend. The sec­ond one blasted past Cilic at the net for the pass.

Around then, how­ever, the an­tic­i­pa­tion had de­pleted. The tour­na­ment felt drained. It had wit­nessed a women’s fi­nal­ist, Venus Wil­liams, weary­ing to a clos­ingset 6-0 loss Satur­day, and now it had Cilic, stay­ing in just be­cause he doesn’t be­lieve in re­tir­ing. “Such a small thing can play a huge dif­fer­ence,” he said. The men car­ried on, along base­lines that looked like they had held two weeks of rugby, through an un­sightly bou­quet of Cilic er­rors. Cilic banged his racket against his chair. Cilic wept. The four years Fed­erer spent with­out a Grand Slam ti­tle (2013 to 2016), a nor­mal span for about 7 bil­lion hu­mans but not for him, were about to give way to two in one year.

“I truly be­lieved, you know,” he said. “For me, it was also im­por­tant that my team be­lieved it as well. . . . Maybe when you’re doubt­ing your­self, they re­as­sure you. If you’re feel­ing too good, they make sure you come back to Planet Earth and put you in your place. . . . I did ask them the ques­tion sin­cerely, to every­body on my team, if they thought I could win ma­jors again or if I could win the big­gest tour­na­ments or if I would win against the best on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Ba­si­cally, the an­swer was al­ways the same from them: that they thought if you’re one hun­dred per­cent healthy and you’re well-pre­pared, you’re ea­ger to play, any­thing’s pos­si­ble . . . That’s how it played out, so they were all right. I be­lieved them. “I had the same feel­ing.” It came true.

CLIVE BRUNSKILL/GETTY IM­AGES

DANIEL LEAL-OLI­VAS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Swiss star Roger Fed­erer won a record eighth Wimbledon men’s sin­gles ti­tle and be­came the event’s old­est cham­pion in the Open era.

DANIEL LEAL-OLI­VAS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Roger Fed­erer, above, routed an in­jured Marin Cilic for his eighth Wimbledon ti­tle and 19th Grand Slam crown, both men’s records.

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