Re: ******* The Championships, Wimbledon 2005 *******
Federer Gunning for Third Wimbledon Win
Thursday, 12 May, 2005
Would-be usurpers be warned. Roger Federer has two clear objectives for 2005. “My top priority is to retain my Wimbledon title” said the two-time defending champion during his winning run at Indian Wells in March. “And I want to stay No. 1 in the world” he added. On the evidence so far, there seems every likelihood that the 23-year-old Swiss superstar will achieve both.
Before the end of April Federer had won five of the seven tournaments he had contested and had stood at match point in both the matches he lost. Before the middle of May Federer had won six of the eight tournaments he had contested and had stood at match point in both the matches he lost. True champions hate to lose and Federer knew that he could have - perhaps should have - found a way to win them both.
Marat Safin’s lunging backhand lob that had landed on the baseline to deny Federer a place in the Australian Open final where, 12 months earlier, he had beaten the Russian for the title, was a shot in a million. Federer’s attempt to hit a winner by firing the ball between his legs as he raced towards the back fence would have been a shot in a billion. But the ball was caught by the net band and rebounded his side of the net. “I still felt like I was going to win” he said ruefully “but Marat played some great tennis after that”.
Against Richard Gasquet in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo, Federer missed the line with a fierce forehand to the youngster’s backhand that would have sealed the fate of the remarkable French teenager. Unfortunately for Federer the 18-year-old saved two more match points and then proceeded to reel off some spectacular backhands to claim a famous victory. “On that match point I should have gone the other side, to his forehand, but I only missed it by just a little bit, you know” said the smiling Federer.
For a man who has been pulling rabbits out of the hat all year those were painful moments. Speaking about his ability to conjure a victory when not playing at his best, Federer said “I dig much deeper now. Being a set down doesn’t bother me like it used to. Before I would get frustrated and totally change up my game and would be in a sort of panic mode. That doesn’t happen any more”.
Winning, of course, breeds confidence but it is not only a mental issue. He is stronger too. For the physical improvement he can thank Pierre Paganini, his trainer at home, and Pavel Kovak who travels with him on the road. Pavel can always be seen sitting courtside alongside Federer’s girlfriend Miroslava Varinek. “Mirka” also takes care of the tedious daily details of life on the Tour giving Roger the time and space to concentrate on his tennis and his training. “I think finally all the hard work is paying off. Because I’ve improved physically I can fight through tough matches where before I would have had to change my game” says Federer.
Now it is others who have to make changes as they attempt to derail the Federer Express. By common consent Federer is the most gifted player on the planet, potentially the most complete player of all time. Old timers like Rod Laver and Charlie Pasarell are full of praise for Federer’s extraordinary talents. “I don’t think I could have beaten him” said Laver modestly - though most of us believe that the great double Grand Slam champion would have been Federer’s equal if given the same competitive opportunities using modern equipment. Indian Wells tournament chairman Pasarell is simply in awe of the man. “I’ve never seen a talent like his. It’s ridiculous what he can do with a racket” he said after seeing Federer successfully retain his title.
Even his present challengers are ready to admit that Federer is in a class of his own. “I’ve never seen as complete a player” said Safin. “He can do it all and he has so many options”.
Young Rafael Nadal, the 18-year-old Spaniard who was two points away from scoring a repeat victory over the world No. 1 in Miami last month, was equally forthright. “Oh yes, Federer is the best player right now. He has all the shots - very good forehand, great backhand, he serves great and volleys so well too and his slice is so difficult when he attacks. No other player can do all that”.
Nadal might have added that Federer can also cover the court like a gazelle, can pluck aces out of the air on important points like rabbits out of a hat and has the reflexes of a Formula One driver.
Barring accidents, then, Roger Federer will be the overwhelming favourite to win a third consecutive Wimbledon title. He makes no secret of the fact that he would like to equal Pete Sampras’ four in a row and Bjorn Borg’s five. Yet he is conscious how fragile the life of a tennis champion can be now that the game has become so demanding physically. That is why he did not make himself available for the early rounds of the Davis Cup this year. “I just felt that I had to skip Davis Cup and play my schedule till after Wimbledon without any bad experiences, you know, no risk from injuries from playing too much”.
Even with a lighter schedule Federer's 41 winning matches in 2005, which include a revenge win over Gasquet in the Hamburg final, have already taken their toll. Injuries to both feet (he is suffering from plantar fascitis - inflamation of the tendons under the foot) prevented him from competing in Rome and raised doubts about his ability to sustain a winning run over seven rounds of five-set matches at the French Open.
Although he has never been past the quarter-finals in Paris, Federer will still start as the official favourite. As Andy Roddick said “Wherever he plays, regardless of the surface, Federer will start as favourite. He has raised the bar. The rest of us are trying to catch him”. It will be fascinating these next few weeks to see if anyone can.
~~~Roger Federer (18 GS): Wimbledon 2003, AO 2004, Wimbledon 2004, US Open 2004, Wimbledon 2005, US Open 2005, AO 2006, Wimbledon 2006, US Open 2006, AO 2007, Wimbledon 2007, US Open 2007, US Open 2008, Roland Garros 2009, Wimbledon 2009, AO 2010, Wimbledon 2012, AO 2017 ~~~