GAME, SET, UN­MATCHED

Tears on both sides with record in hand and fu­ture in doubt

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Rosie DiManno At Wimbledon

With eight ti­tles, Roger Fed­erer be­comes Wimbledon’s win­ningest male tennis player,

There is the Roger Fed­erer who averted his eyes from a sob­bing op­po­nent, never even glanced over.

But in his mind he was think­ing, where is the pain and how can I ex­ploit it? “You need to hurt him, you know, where it hurts al­ready.” Fed­erer couldn’t dis­cern why Marin Cilic, hunched in his chair dur­ing the changeover, was in such agony, bawl­ing as if some­thing had bro­ken.

It was the Croat’s spirit, but Fed­erer didn’t re­al­ize that then and wouldn’t have cared.

“Be­cause I couldn’t tell what it was, it ac­tu­ally made things eas­ier,” the once and again and again and again and again and again and again and again Wimbledon men’s cham­pion said.

“If I saw him limp­ing around, or if I saw him pull up hurt in some place, I would start to think, OK, maybe I’ll throw in a drop shot to re­ally check him out, then want more, be­cause that’s what you do.”

Such an ur­bane and re­fined sport, tennis. Not at that mer­ci­less level that the Fed Ex­press plays it, how­ever.

He’s a Swiss ninja, faith­ful to the as­sas­sin’s creed. A man with­out pity be­neath his gen­tle­manly ex­te­rior. It’s what made him the vic­tor at the All Eng­land Club Sun­day af­ter­noon, hoist­ing the tro­phy for a record eighth time.

Yet there is also the Roger Fed­erer who, as soon as the match was over — straight sets in a mere hour and 41min­utes — sank into his own chair, looked up to­wards the box where wife Mirka was stand­ing with the cou­ple’s two sets of young twins, Leo and Lenny and Myla Rose and Char­lene Riva, and he too burst into tears.

“This one’s for us,” he told them. He is the great­est tennis player of his era, per­haps of any era. He is ma­ni­a­cally fo­cused, will do just about what­ever it takes to make it all look so sub­limely silky and ef­fort­less — most def­i­nitely it is not — and at age 35 years, 343 days, re­mains largely a jet-set­ting tennis vagabond. But he’s also a hus­band and fa­ther to a brood of young­sters. They, he in­di­cated the other day, will de­ter­mine when this whirl­wind stops, if his body doesn’t tell him. And of course his body has been mis­in­formed be­fore, most re­cently a year ago when he left the court limp­ing, de­feated in the semis by Canada’s Mi­los Raonic, his knee re­quir­ing surgery as a re­sult of a stum­ble to the court, many won­der­ing whether the par­a­digm of men’s tennis would ever pass this way again.

“I have con­tin­u­ous dis­cus­sion with my wife about the fam­ily, about my kids, is ev­ery­body happy on tour? Are we happy to pack up and go on tour for five, six, seven weeks? Are we will­ing to do that?”

He can look only one year ahead; at the mo­ment he is not even cer­tain about com­pet­ing in the Rogers Cup next month in Mon­treal. This has been a six-month sea­son and he’s got two Grand Slam ti­tles to show for it, Wimbledon and the Aus­tralian Open.

Flush from his tri­umph on Cen­tre Court — seven wins in a fort­night with­out drop­ping a sin­gle set — Fed­erer could see no rea­son why he won’t be back at SW19 in a year’s time. Court­side, though, he’d hedged his bets, say­ing he hoped to be back.

“We never know what hap­pens,” he grinned, just as he never ex­pected to wrench his knee while bathing his kids. And it had been five long years since last he made off with the Wimbledon spoils.

“What keeps me go­ing? I love to play. My wife’s to­tally fine with me still play­ing. She’s my num­ber one sup­porter, she’s amaz­ing.’’

Even more fun­da­men­tally, he can’t re­sist the lure of the Slams, and most es­pe­cially this one.

“I love play­ing the big stages still. I don’t mind the prac­tice. I don’t mind the travel. Be­cause I’m play­ing a lit­tle less, I ac­tu­ally get more time in re­turn. I feel like I’m work­ing part-time these days al­most, which is a great feel­ing.”

He was savour­ing ev­ery se­cond of it: the stand­ing ova­tion from an ador­ing au­di­ence, the walk to the cham­pi­ons’ wall to watch his name plaque be­ing slid in again, the ap­pear­ance on the bal­cony, tro­phy held aloft.

Over­tak­ing, on this oc­ca­sion, his idol Pete Sam­pras, whose name is listed seven times on that wall.

“Win­ning eight is not some­thing you can ever aim for, in my opin­ion,” he said, scarcely touch­ing on the fact it was also his 19th Slam ti­tle. “If you do, you must have so much tal­ent and par­ents and 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 tennis tour.

“I guess I dreamed, I be­lieved, and re­ally hoped that I could ac­tu­ally maybe re­ally do it, make it real. So I put in a lot of work and it paid off.”

He’s tennis no­bil­ity now, of course, an icon of mul­ti­ple coro­na­tions, as re­gal as the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge who watched Sun­day’s match from the royal box.

Yet it was, in truth, not much of a match, steeply anti-cli­mac­tic in its 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 out­come. Painful to be­hold, too, for any­body with an ounce of pity in their bones for poor Cilic, among the most ami­able and gen­er­ous-hearted play­ers on the cir­cuit.

The 28-year-old had fi­nally made it to a Wimbledon fi­nal, on his 11th try, only to have a hor­ror un­fold.

Cilic, who came ex­cru­ci­at­ingly close to de­feat­ing Fed­erer in a five-set­ter here a year ago — up two sets and 3-0 be­fore it all went pear­shaped — seemed off, er­ratic and ner­vous from the get-go, net­ting a break-point chance in the fourth game, then bro­ken as Fed­erer racked up six points in a row. That, un­for­tu­nately, was as taut as the match got, Cilic shoot­ing blanks with his sig­na­ture bazooka first serve.

It had been three years since Fed­erer last lost a Grand Slam from one set up.

Bro­ken again and trail­ing 3-0 in the se­cond frame, things went dra­mat­i­cally weird with Cilic in the chair, sob­bing into his towel. It was un­clear whether he was in­jured — he’d stum­bled in the opener — or sim­ply dis­traught. A doc­tor, the ref­eree, the tour­na­ment su­per­vi­sor all hov­ered anx­iously.

“It was just a feel­ing that I knew 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,” he ex­plained later, af­ter it had be­come ob­vi­ous that a painful blis­ter on his bruised left foot was the cul­prit.

“It was very, very dif­fi­cult to deal with. It didn’t hurt so much that it was putting me in tears. It was just that I wasn’t able to give the best.”

As many won­dered if the match would be called — a re­tire­ment in the fi­nal for the first time in 106 years — Cilic re­cov­ered his compo- sure and re­sumed play­ing. But, while win­ning the first game of the se­cond set, he was only a pale shadow of the player he’d been over the past two weeks. It took grit to per­se­vere but the loom­ing de­noue­ment of this en­counter was ev­i­dent to ev­ery­one.

Af­ter Fed­erer took the se­cond set hand­ily, Cilic called for a med­i­cal time­out. His foot was heav­ily padded and wrapped. There was some im­prove­ment from the Croat — U.S. Open win­ner in 2014 — in the third set but at 3-3 he was bro­ken for the fi­nal time af­ter los­ing two points in a row with sloppy net­ted fore­hands. Fed­erer served out for the vic­tory with an em­phatic ace down the mid­dle on his se­cond match point.

“Through­out my ca­reer, I’ve never given up when I’ve started a match,” an emo­tional Cilic told the crowd. “That was also my idea to­day. I gave my best. That’s all I could do.

“I had an amaz­ing jour­ney here. I played the best tennis of my life.”

It was Fed­erer who then cut to the quick of this fiendish sport.

“It is cruel some­times.”

CLIVE BRUN­SKILL/GETTY IM­AGES

DANIEL LEAL-OLI­VAS/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Marin Cilic’s first shot at a Wimbledon ti­tle ended in pain, with a bruised and blis­tered left foot leav­ing him in tears at times.

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