Evergreen Roger Federer silences doubters once and for all with victory over Andy Murray
A spent force? Hardly. Victory yesterday means the Swiss equals Sampras's record of weeks as world No 1, writes Steve Tongue
When Roger Federer went out of the French Open to Novak Djokovic in May, he faced some disconcerting debate about his future. Finished as a tennis force? The notion will seem laughable today when he is not only officially confirmed as the leading performer in his chosen occupation anywhere in the world but knows that within seven days he will have held that accolade for longer than anyone since records were first kept.
As of this morning he has equalled Pete Sampras's record as No 1 men's player for a total of 285 weeks, which equates to more than five years, and there can be an end to the questions of whether he will be able to add any more, or continue to live with the younger generation.
Yet it is understandable that such talk arose. Failure here would have extended an unwanted run to 10 Grand Slam events without a victory. Even yesterday, amid all the familiar flashes of brilliance, the unusual frequency of unforced errors (25 to Andy Murray's 10 in the first two sets alone) was offering ammunition for the doubters.
In a lean year in 2011 he had suffered the almost unthinkable in losing a two-set lead in a Grand Slam, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga knocked him out in the Wimbledon quarter-final; he later lost to Djokovic in the US Open after holding match points.
Until their semi-final here, Djokovic had recently had Federer's number; Murray, like Rafael Nadal, leads him on head-to-heads. There was even speculation that he could retire after the London Olympics. In fact, he plans his schedule up to 18 months in advance and will not only be carrying on after next month's tournament but has spoken about the Rio Olympics of 2016.
By that time, he will be 35 and surely playing for fun – or love. "I get asked about this [retirement] a lot," he has said. "And the answer is very simple: I love this game."
That is despite career earnings now heading towards £50m. He will love it even more this morning after joining Sampras on seven Wimbledon titles, and extending his own record to 17 Grand Slam titles, which also include five US Opens, one French and four Australian. He has also won more titles than any other player this year (five).
Of course, he also understands that "the hunger can begin to disappear at some point because you invest so much and, at some point, the body becomes tired."
Age, he claims, is "just a number" but it is a number that moves in one direction. At 31 in four weeks' time he is half a tennis generation above the other three musketeers. Yet he is still pushing back the boundaries: only Arthur Ashe, who was almost 32, ever won Wimbledon at an older age; only Andre Agassi, at 33, has ever been an older world No 1.
Because of the location of the Olympic tennis tournament, Federer was able to say last night "I will be back" as a firmer promise than most. It is an event he has always held dear since being inspired by Marc Rosset's gold medal at the 1992 Games for Switzerland. He won gold himself in doubles with Stanislas Wawrinka in Beijing and would love to add a singles medal to yesterday's title before the next big challenge at the US Open Flushing Meadows. Federer insists that is still up for it; his admirers all round the globe will believe he is still up to it as well.
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