FED­ERER ADDS MORE FIRSTS IN 2017 RE­VIVAL

Swiss is first man to win 8 Wim­ble­dons, 19 Grand Slams

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - San­dra Har­witt

WIM­BLE­DON, ENG­LAND It might seem cliché to say what a dif­fer­ence a year makes, but when it comes to Roger Fed­erer, it can’t be said in any other way.

Last year at al­most 35, Fed­erer left Wim­ble­don a semi­fi­nal­ist, with a knee in­jury tak­ing its toll. It was par­tic­u­larly no­table as the Swiss master had never be­fore ex­pe­ri­enced a se­ri­ous phys­i­cal prob­lem in his long tennis ca­reer.

When Fed­erer an­nounced he was end­ing his sea­son at that junc­ture, many wor­ried they had seen the last of the man of­ten de­clared the great­est of all time. Or, at the very least, if he re­turned he might do so as a shadow of his for­mer self.

The les­son learned: Never un­der­es­ti­mate Roger Fed­erer.

Not only did he re­turn to the courts, he did so with a vengeance. Hav­ing not played a tour­na­ment in six months, Fed­erer sashayed into the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary and won an 18th Grand Slam tour­na­ment ti­tle.

Now, for the first time since 2009, he has won two Grand Slam tro­phies in a year as he breezed through Wim­ble­don without the loss of a set.

On Sun­day, Fed­erer be­came the first man in tennis his­tory to win eight Wim­ble­don ti­tles when he dom­i­nated in­jured Marin Cilic of Croa­tia 6- 3, 6- 1, 6- 4 in the fi­nal.

“I’m in­cred­i­bly sur­prised how well this year is go­ing, how well I’m feel­ing, how things are turn­ing out to be on the courts, how I’m man­ag­ing tougher sit­u­a­tions, where my level of play is on a daily ba­sis,” he said, barely tak­ing a breath.

While he ad­mit­ted mak­ing his­tory at Wim­ble­don is spe­cial, he also ac­knowl­edged he never dreamed of this kind of suc­cess as a tennis- play­ing child.

“Win­ning eight is not some­thing you can ever aim for, in my opin­ion,” Fed­erer said. “If you do, 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 just re­ally a nor­mal guy grow­ing up in Basel, hop­ing to make a ca­reer on the tour. I guess I dreamed, I be­lieved and re­ally hoped that I could ac­tu­ally, maybe re­ally do it, make it real.”

At 35 years, 342 days, Fed­erer is the old­est man in the Open era to win the Wim­ble­don ti­tle. He cap­tured the match in per­fect style by serv­ing up an ace on his sec­ond match point.

No other man in his­tory has won 19 Grand Slam ti­tles. He joins He­len Wills Moody on the list of all- time Grand Slam cham­pi­ons with 19 tro­phies. Stand­ing be­tween Fed­erer and the top of that list is St­effi Graf with 22, Ser­ena Wil­liams with 23 and Mar­garet Court with 24.

He is the third man to win mul­ti­ple Grand Slam ti­tles in the Open era without drop­ping a set. The Swiss player also per­formed that feat when win­ning the 2007 Aus­tralian Open.

Bjorn Borg won at Wim­ble­don in 1976 and the French Open in 1978 and ’ 80 without los­ing a set. Rafael Nadal cap­tured the French Open without drop­ping a set in 2008, ’ 10 and ’ 17.

Dur­ing the 1- hour, 41- minute fi­nal, Fed­erer saved the one break point he faced, which came at 3040 in the fourth game of the first set. From there, the match was his to own.

Cilic, the 2014 U. S. Open cham­pion, could never find his range in the match and con­stantly hit serves, fore­hands and back­hands be­yond the bound­aries of the court. He was treated for a blis­ter on his left foot dur­ing the changeover be­tween the sec­ond and third sets.

By the time he fell be­hind 3- 6, 0- 3, the Croat be­came emo­tional, dis­solv­ing into tears dur­ing the changeover. He con­sulted with a tour­na­ment doc­tor and trainer, then sat with a towel over his head, even af­ter um­pire Damien Dum­sois called time. The Cen­tre Court crowd was silent, wait­ing to see if Cilic would con­tinue to play. As some­one who de­fines him­self by not walk­ing away from a chal­lenge, Cilic didn’t give up.

“I gave my best, and that’s all I could do,” a teary- eyed Cilic said to the crowd. “I’ve had an amaz­ing jour­ney here and played the best tennis of my life.”

On the court, Fed­erer gave his thank you speech, al­most as if this could be his fi­nal time at Wim­ble­don. That, how­ever, isn’t how he’s think­ing. A month away from his 36th birth­day, Fed­erer be­lieves he’ll be back next year. But af­ter the knee in­jury knocked him out last sea­son, he knows there’s no guar­an­tees.

In his mind, how­ever, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble if luck is on his side that he could be play­ing Cen­tre Court when he’s 40.

“I love play­ing the big stages still,” he said. “I don’t mind the prac­tice. I don’t mind the travel. Be­cause I’m play­ing a lit­tle less … I feel like I’m work­ing part time these days, al­most, which is a great feel­ing.”

SU­SAN MULLANE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Roger Fed­erer, above, is the third man to win mul­ti­ple Grand Slam ti­tles in the Open era without drop­ping a set, join­ing Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal.

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