Federer proclaims his arrival in classic style

Swiss overwhelms Philippoussis in men's final with consummate all-round display which confirms emergence as a major talent
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The Independent Online

The so-called "bottler" uncorked the champagne, and the world of tennis toasted Roger Federer, vintage Wimbledon champion.

What the 21-year-old Swiss achieved for the sport yesterday was the confirmation that class is timeless, that when great talents emerge they cast a golden glow over the whole scene.

Federer is a consummate player who has finally - how irritating it is that impatient reporters use such a word in relation to one so young and gifted - broken through the invisible barrier of nerves that separates major winners from eye-catching contenders.

Yesterday, in out-playing the tall, imposing Mark Philippoussis, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6, Federer was simply wonderful to watch, though obviously the contest was too one-sided to be a great final.

Federer became the first player to make the transition from the boys' title to the men's championship since the elegant Stefan Edberg in 1983. He recalled that in 1998, after he won junior title, he and his Australian coach, Peter Carter, were invited to the Champions' Dinner at the Savoy, but turned it down because he had received a wild card for his first ATP Tour event in Gstaad.

As his professional career began to develop, Federer hired Sweden's Peter Lundgren as his coach. But in his moment of triumph yesterday, Federer paid tribute to Carter, who died in an automobile accident last year. "He's been one of the most important people in my career," he said. "I guess we would have a big party together if he was here. In a way, I still regret not going to the official dinner that time, but now I can live through that experience. I hope Peter sees it from somewhere."

Federer was unfazed by Philippoussis's mighty serve, even though the Australian's "scud" deliveries were more accurate than the American Andy Roddick's had been in the semi-final. For all his velocity, serving at speeds of up to 138 mph, Philippoussis was out-aced, 21-14, and Federer did not make an unforced error in returning the serves he managed to lock on to.

Philippoussis was unable to create a single break point in the hour and 56 minutes of the match. Such was Federer's variation of pace and spin and the pin-point placement of his deliveries that Philippoussis suffered eye strain trying to read them.

It would be misleading, however, to classify the match as a typical big server being frustrated by a potent returner of serve. Federer is an exemplar of the all-court game. His passing shots were clean and emphatic, whether he was whipping then across the court or teasing angled shots low over the net. His volleying was sharper than his opponent's, and his movement would have graced the Bolshoi.

Federer's technical skill is heightened by his ability to improvise, and a backhand drive-volley down the line from the back of the court in the second set brought a gasp of admiration from the spectators.

Regular tennis observers, while marvelling at Federer's spectacular shot-making at the tournaments he plays on the international tour, have questioned his mental toughness. That is why, along with his tears of joy, he felt he had lifted a burden of expectation. "It is a big relief to me," he said, "because there was pressure from all sides, and also from myself. I wanted to do better in the Slams. But I guess you need a little luck, like I had with my back [injury] in the fourth round [against Feliciano Lopez]. When I was playing that round, I didn't think I'd ever hold a trophy. Not even a week later, I'm holding it."

Federer admitted that he was nervous when he walked on court yesterday, but the only time his supporters really worried was when he was drawn into a tie-break in the opening set and conceded a mini-break on the opening point. He recovered immediately and was gifted an opportunity when Philippoussis double-faulted at 4-5. Philippoussis than returned a second serve over the baseline as Federer took the shoot-out, 7-5, after 43 minutes.

The second set was virtually a showcase of Federer's ability as he broke in the first and third games and kept Philippoussis at bay even when he lapsed into a dodgy service game at 4-1. The Australian gleaned only two points from that, and was no more surprised than the rest of us when Federer secured the set with an ace to the side line.

Federer's authority reached such a pitch in the third set that he did not make a murmur of complaint when the umpire, Gerry Armstrong, over-ruled a call on breakpoint at 1-1 and awarded Philippoussis an ace.

The Australian took Federer to deuce in the next game - the closest he came to testing Swiss nerve - but Federer again was the player who created the chances, forcing Philippoussis to save two break points in the 11th game en route to the second tie-break.

There was a shout of "Come on, Scud!" as Philippoussis prepared for his last chance to turn the match round. But Federer was unshakeable, winning the shoot-out, 7-3, on his third match point.

Having become the first Swiss-born Grand Slam Champion, Federer was asked, light-heartedly, how many more major international sporting events his countrymen were going to gate-crash. After all, they added the America's Cup to their list of unlikely achievements earlier this year.

"At one stage [in the match] I was thinking about the America's Cup," he said. "You have strong emotions, but you don't want to get over-excited. After I won the second set, I said to myself, 'I really hope that I can do this in three.' I remembered that in the America's Cup they were 3-0 ahead and everybody said they were racing away. Same with me, when I was two sets to love up. I thought, 'Just take it, and race away'."

With more grass than sea in his homeland, Federer's success is less mind-boggling. Given his natural talent, there is no reason why he should not race away for many years to come.

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