Mandy mown down by Federer in SW19
Mandy, a winner of zero major titles, broke Federer, the winner of sixteen, in the opening game of the Wimbledon Final 2012. Mandy and the home crowd could not have asked for a better start. And though Federer broke back, Mandy did not choke as he has done in other major finals. Instead it seemed that it was Federer who was struggling as he hit an unusual number of errors while Mandy played the tennis he is supposed to play to win these Big Matches. He moved forward, he hit his forehand aggressively and he hit his first serve in. Breaking again at 4-4, Mandy served for the first set and a winning volley, an ace and a service winner all helped him to seal the set and had the thrilled audience made up of the likes of Pippa Middleton, David Cameron and the Beckhams on their feet, porcelains as shiny as that Winner’s trophy on show on the court.
It was Mandy’s first set in a major final, his fourth. His opponent had won 57 sets in major finals. The second set saw Roger’s forehand hitting its mark and Mandy still continuing with his fine attacking play. This was very much the Mandy we had been waiting for in big matches although the old Mandy was still rearing his head now and then. The clutching at his back or his hamstring after a long point Mandy. The grimmacing Mandy. The shouting at himself Mandy. The come-oning on his opponents errors Mandy. But in a fight between the cool and attacking Mandy we were seeing and the old Mandy, the former seemed to be winning out against the latter as the set went with serve until 5-6 with Murray serving to stay in the set. It was at this point that Roger did what these great Champions do at the business end of the set. They force the issue. For Roger, aware that he was only a tiebreak away from falling two sets to love behind, this was the moment to break and serve first in the next set. This was where he had to take control of this match, a match in which he was the better grass court player. Murray played the attacking tennis that saw him get so close to that two sets to love lead but a missed volley at 30-30 saw him go set point down. It was this point, the biggest of the match so far, that we saw the difference between the Man with the record for most majors won and the man who had just broken his Major final set winning duck. The players moved each other around the court, looking to get the other on the run and to attack, and it was Roger, cool as you like, who moved in and put a volley away to seal the set. One set all. His fifty-eighth in a major final.
At 1-1, the rain came and play was suspended. This was what Mandy did and did not need. He definitely needed to see his coach to discuss how not to let the next two sets slip away so suddenly like the second did, but he did not need to face the Greatest Indoor player of all time in an Indoor Grass Major Final where said Greatest Indoor player of all time (and record holder of the most majors) has won six titles.
Still, what he did or did not need was irrelevant. It was happening and Mandy’s deal was to deal with it and to get his first major on his resume. The roof on, the two players came out. Roger held serve to love in an ominous start for Mandy and the home fans. Mandy held and then Roger held again, to love. The serve was back on. At 2-3, Federer forced the issue again, using his forehand and his variety to get no less than ten break points in an eighteen minute game against the Scot who could not find his first serve on the deuce points. On the tenth break point, Mandy could not fight off Federer any longer as Roger hits a lob on the tenth deuce that Mandy cannot chase from falling down. On the break point, Mandy cannot find the first serve he desperately needs, and as good as firing a blank, he sends over a second serve which Roger, his ground strokes on maximum power, moves Andy around, opens the court and then fires a flat and deep forehand, one of his very best, into the open court to break for 4-2. This is what Champions do. They hold their serves and then put pressure on their opponent and that pressure is even easier to apply if your opponent is only getting in fifty percent of their first serves. Roger had no problems holding serve the next two games to take a two sets to one lead.
Federer had the rhythm now, the rhythm of winning. Having not won a major since the Australian Open in 2010, where he beat Mandy, coming back from 2-5 down in the third to win it on a tiebreak, the memories of those sixteen major wins must have been flooding back. How Roger felt though, we had no idea. His face was as pokerish as ever. How Mandy felt we were in no question. Jubilant when the shots were landing in, the points going his way and things going against his opponent, anguished when he was on the receiving end of a winner or his shots were not finding their mark. And Federer would have been aware of how his opponent’s emotions were wearing him down. Fed, whose emotions were quietly driving him to his seventeenth major title, kept those emotions firmly in check in another crucial game at 2-2 in the fourth. Having just flown through his service game, Federer passed Mandy at the net to seal that all important match winning break. Up 3-2 and his serve firmly on, the formality of the match caved in on us all as we resigned ourselves to watching another regal procession toward the throne from the GOAT while his opponent, tumbling around on the court and punishing himself mentally for his failure to beat an all time Great, fell to the side and was only good for dropping petals in the champion’s way.
At 5-4 Federer, the players sat on the change of ends and the crowd was in wild applause for them and chanting Mandy’s name. When time was called, the two made it to their places and as each point passed, the two of them moved even closer to their rightful places in the tennis heirachy: Champion and challenger. Federer reached double Championship point with an ace. A second serve and a fine return from Mandy to Federer’s backhand that he could pick up. Then, on his second match point, Federer hit to Murray’s forehand and the crosscourt forehand from Mandy was called out. Federer fell onto the grass and then picked himself up to meet Mandy at the net where they embraced before a standing ovation.
They both deserved it. We could not have asked for more from Mandy. No one knows better how to win Major titles than Federer. No one. And to lose to him, well it was not even so much that he lost to him. Federer knows how to win these matches and he won. Plain and simple. Andy was beaten.
And then we asked too much from Mandy. The BBC’s Sue Barker put a microphone in his face and told him how well he had played. This was probably not what Mandy, facing the crushing disappointment of losing his fourth major final in a match in which, had he kept his emotions in check and executed his plan better in the second, he might have been able to win. With all this and the pain of seeing his professional dreams crushed by someone else being better than him, again, even though he had worked his guts out to compete with him, with all of this spinning round in his mind, on the biggest of tennis occassions, with emotion running high, he has a microphone in his face and he has to speak. And he can barely do it for the tears. He congratulates Roger, says he is not bad for 30, and he cannot look at his box for fear of more tears, so he thanks them while looking the other way, and then he thanks the crowd who he says make it easier to play, not harder, and then he walks away, while Sue moves after him a little, but he does not look back. fearful for his blood.
Then it is Roger’s turn. And while Roger has just broken his own record of major titles won and will now be back at number one and break Pete’s, his ‘hero’ he says in his speech, record of weeks at number one and equalled his slew of Wimby crowns, he is not asked about these things, but is asked about Andy instead. Sue tells him what a great challenge he faced and how he must understand all the pressure Mandy is under from having seen the papers.
‘I don’t read the papers’, says Roger.
There is some laughter from the audience. Roger does not read the papers about tennis. Roger is not like us. He is a player, not a spectator. While we sit around reading about who will win, speculating, analysing, Roger is busy playing. And winning. While we are ‘reading’ about Mandy this, Mandy that, Roger is practicing and working out how to beat him. Roger is not one of us. No, no. He is Roger Federer, the Greatest Tennis Player of all time. Continuing the interview, The GOAT gives Mandy the credit he deserves and then he gives himself the chance to do what those microphones are for, to talk; he talks about his emotions at winning the title, what it means to him and how special it is to do it in front of his daughters.
And then the two of them, Champion and runner-up, go before the camera and hold aloft the trophy. After a short while, Mandy taps Roger on the shoulder, says something and then leaves him to the limelight. The limelight reserved for the winner. The limelight Mandy has to live under at Wimnbledon though he is not a major champion yet. The limelight that reduces him to tears. Let’s spare him it next year and let him get on with what he should be doing: playing tennis. And winning.
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