Roger Federer Wins Record 8th Wimbledon- Do You Believe in G.O.A.T?
If seeing is believing, tennis fans around the world will tell you that on Sunday July 16th 2017 in the Gentlemen’s singles final on Wimbledon’s Center Court they saw the G.O.A.T defeating seventh seed Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.
Fans who were not around to see the victory, those not yet born, will read about it in the record books one day- an 8th Wimbledon title, a 19th slam title, 14 years after his first and a 93rd career title- and decide on Federer’s G.O.A.T status themselves as past fans of the game did when it came to assessing Rod Laver’s G.O.A.T status before Pete Sampras broke the Australian’s record of 11 slams with his 12th slam win at the 1999 Wimbledon event, defeating Andre Agassi in a great straight sets Grass Court exhibition, or evaluating Sampras’ own G.O.A.T credentials in the period leading up to Federer’s 15th slam win, also at Wimbledon, in 2009.
This season, fans foresaw Federer the G.O.A.T gracing the Wimbledon trophy ceremony when, after winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, the Swiss skipped the clay season to rest and prepare for the Grass, a decision that proved wise when he returned and, after a rusty loss versus Tommy Haas in his Stuttgart Opener, won 11 matches straight from Halle to the Wimbledon final and did so without dropping a set.
What fans did not predict though was quite how the Wimbledon final would turn out. The match started competitively enough with Cilic holding a break point early on in the first set, but the Croat hit the return into the net, and then took a tumble on court soon after, his performance slipping, too, in its focus and accuracy, the errors bombing, his self imploding, and all the while Federer holding firm, knowing Cilic was prone to nerves and inconsistency, symptoms exacerbated by blisters on his feet, the Croat’s body bruised by the hours on court needed to reach the heights of a Wimbledon final, his mind overwhelmed by the occasion, and the presence of his opponent, so much so that in the middle of an MTO, with the Tennis world’s eyes upon him, Cilic wept.
Federer was not moved by that heart-breaking sight, though. The Swiss got down to business despite the distraction of an injured opponent like the professional he is, taking the first set 6-3 and then coming in for the kill, like a Champion does, to take the second set 6-1.
Cilic managed to pull himself together in the third set, but it was too late by then, Federer’s grass court tools too sharp, his mind and gut too close to the finish line to let this one slip. At 3-3, Cilic serving at 15-40, a Federer backhand slice drew an error from the Cilic forehand, and the Swiss had the break.
Federer served for the match at 5-4 and a service winner earned him two championship points, on the second of which the Swiss served an ace down the tee to win the trophy and to convince even the disbelievers, despite what they saw when he won his record 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th slams, he was not just resurrected for an encore but was instead back for the long-haul, winning his 19th slam two slams after his 18th (there had been three and a half years between 17 and 18), and pulling away from his active rivals Rafa Nadal (15) and Novak Djokovic (12).
In previous years, Federer’s classic grass court guile was beaten by Nadal and Djokovic’s very modern aggressive baseline games, games so effective in recent conditions, Federer himself had been forced to bow down to them and modify his own style to stay relevant, but, as much as he was master of his style, they were masters of theirs and their style was in trend and so both men got in the way of Federer winning an eighth Wimbledon sooner than the age of 35, Nadal beating him in the 2008 final, Djokovic in the 2014 and 2015 finals, wins which have been referenced in rebuttals to the already converted arguments as to Federer’s G.O.A.T status, some critics, no less than tennis Gods themselves, arguing you cannot be the Greatest ever when you have a losing head to head record versus your greatest rival and some arguing Djokovic’s 2015 was the greatest season ever put together and that such a season could only belong to the G.O.A.T.
A 19th slam, though, aged 35, a month away from turning 36, and won without the loss of a set retells the Nadal and Djokovic G.O.A.T narratives from twisted tales to monstrous myths, unlikely to be retold again as anything but the latter unless they, too, revamp, improve, persevere, and even if they do, their more physically grinding games are unlikely to stand the test of time the way Federer’s classic style has.
Djokovic and Nadal, aged 30 and 31, were nowhere to be seen in the role of G.O.A,T busters in this year’s Wimbledon final, but Federer, as unbelievable as it seems looking back a year, was once again G.O.A.T hunting, and this time a big serving big hitting opponent like Cilic was facing him down, the perfect match up for the Swiss.
Cilic was going to have to peak to bring Federer down, but Federer’s 76% of first serves in, 81% of first serves won, 72% of second serves won, 23 winners and 8 unforced errors, and 5/10 break points won were stats of a game never likely to be beaten, just as Federer’s serving game, attacking play, touch and use of slice had been too much for Mark Philippoussis in 2003, Andy Roddick in 2004, 2005 and 2009, Rafa Nadal in 2006 and 2007, and Andy Murray in 2012.
Nadal and Djokovic’s absence from Federer’s 19th slam victory run does not stand in the way of its greatness, their absence instead eclipsed by the man’s very presence in the final itself. Federer’s perseverance to get himself into contention for the title for the eleventh time despite those three heart-breaking losses is what earned him the opportunity to contest another Wimbledon final against a favorable match up (he led Cilic 6-1 before the match) in the first place, and while the Swiss’s classic styles matches up well to most and has taken him to 29 slam finals, it is his belief that has turned a champagne career into the milk and honey of the Gods, Federer saying in his post match speech:
“The tournament I played, not dropping a set, it’s magical really, I just can’t believe it yet, it’s just too much really….I guess again it’s just belief that I can achieve such heights and, you know, I was not sure if I was ever going to be here again in another final, you know, after last year, I’ve had some tough ones, losing to Novak here in ’14 and ’15, but, you know, I always believed I could maybe come back and do it again and, you know, if you believe, you can go really far in your life and I think I did that, and I am happy I kept on dreaming and believing and here I am today for the eighth and it’s fantastic.”
Now Federer has won Wimbledon again, that belief is sure to keep flowing, potentially even more slam titles floating upon it. In his mid to late 30s, Federer has dived head first into the tennis fountain of youth- warm milky sweet waters concocted of well-timed rest, the best health, fitness and technical experts 2.2 million pounds a slam trophy can buy, and weaknesses retooled into weapons fired with bigger rackets.
A fountain a thirsty man like Federer will always be willing to drink from, the Swiss pouring the milk and honey into even more trophies, holding them aloft, passion spilling over, to toast his G.O.A.T worthy talents to, forever surrounded by believers only too happy to raise another chalice.
A record 8 Wimbledon championships and a lifetime of being a champion on and off the court and @rogerfederer is the greatest of all time
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) July 16, 2017
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