Federer's epic win - and an epic ordeal for his pregnant wife

Mirka's exhausting afternoon ends in triumph as Federer eclipses Sampras's record. James Lawton reports

Roger Federer was anointed the greatest player tennis has ever known in Wimbledon's Centre Court last night but it was hard to know whose ordeal had been the greatest, his or that of his wife, Mirka, who is due to give birth to their first child in the next few weeks.

While Federer was required to produce all of his nerve and much of his skill to win his 15th Grand Slam title against the stunningly fierce challenge of American Andy Roddick, Mirka's breathing seemed to intensify with each of the five sets.

But, if there is a calmer, more inspired spirit in tennis, and all of sport, than her husband he has yet to announce himself.

Federer's 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 victory over the 26-year-old Texan Roddick is now enshrined in the annals of the game, carrying him past the total of the great American, Pete Sampras, who had flown in from California for the historic occasion. But no one could have imagined that a year after the epic Rafael Nadal-Federer final, Wimbledon would again produce such a riveting spectacle.

Certainly not the great former champions Sampras, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg who occupied the front row of the Royal Box. All of them had tipped an emphatic Federer triumph over Roddick, who won the US Open six years ago but had slipped behind the elite of Nadal and Federer and Britain's fast-rising Andrew Murray.

Roddick caused one upheaval last Friday when he knocked out Murray and for quite some time he threatened to rob Federer of his unique place in sports history. He won the first set largely on the strength of his 140mph serve, and then held four set points in the tiebreaker at the end of the second.

The Texan was on the point of creating a major convulsion, but in the end Federer had too much poise and, at 27 and a year older than the ferociously aggressive Roddick, the greater stamina.

Federer said: "This is a great moment and I feel a lot of pride that so many great champions, including Pete Sampras, were here today to watch me. I've always wanted to achieve this and I can only commend Andy for giving me such a hard game. I feel very fortunate and privileged and now I'm looking forward to the birth of our child. It is a lot to take it, and a lot to celebrate."

Congratulations from across the sports world poured in for the man who was winning his sixth Wimbledon title, a year after many believed his beating by Nadal had brought the end of an era in tennis.

Among his friends in sport, the world's number one golfer Tiger Woods was particularly impressed, and challenged. Woods is just four major titles away from equalling the record of 18 held by the great Jack Nicklaus, and he will no doubt see the British Open championship at Turnberry as a great opportunity to join Federer on the mark of sweet 15.

For the moment, though, Federer stands supreme among contemporary sportsmen. At Wimbledon, he underlined his superb qualities of competitive nerve and exquisite touch.

"Truly the greatest," announced the former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, whose 1980 final with Borg was regarded as the greatest tennis match ever played until last year's Wimbledon final. Last night's game was not a classic, but it did provide an unforgettable test of both talent and resolve.

It also enshrined Roger Federer as a sportsman of the ages.

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