'Mr Finesse' preserves the aura of invincibility

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The Independent Online

Bjorn Borg started all that sinking to the knees in triumph caper. Now Maria Sharapova is in on the act and Roger Federer has taken celebration to the point of contortion with his Wimbledon version of a paperclip.

Bjorn Borg started all that sinking to the knees in triumph caper. Now Maria Sharapova is in on the act and Roger Federer has taken celebration to the point of contortion with his Wimbledon version of a paperclip.

Visiting the men's singles champion the morning after his successful defence of the title, your correspondent pointed to the photograph on the front page of yesterday's edition of The Independent showing Federer bent over backwards with his head touching the ground. Surely this was not something readers should try at home. He looked in danger of doing himself a mischief.

"It wouldn't have mattered," he smiled. "If I had a strain, I would have become injured by winning Wimbledon. That is fine. I just thought it was so good, I went all the way down. I could not believe I had won it again. It was such a huge relief for me."

The 22-year-old from Basle, who overcame the mighty serves of Andy Roddick to prevail 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4, added: "It's strange looking at that picture. I guess it's just me. This movement, I have done it when I was younger, maybe in bed. Then it's much easier to stretch yourself. I was surprised I did this actually, though. I didn't plan it all."

Nor had he planned to have to rid his mind of so many doubts during the match. "I felt from the start that it could be a very dangerous match," Federer said. "I saw that Andy was taking a lot of chances, and it looked like everything was controlled. And that made me worried. It was a pity I didn't take my chances in the first set."

Returning the 21-year-old Roddick's serve, which was timed at 153mph at Queen's Club, is surely a task for an upturned trampoline? "I'm used to his serve, in a way," Federer said, "though I don't play him every day. I have no choice but to return it. I wasn't serving well in the beginning of the match, so it looked like here we had the Big Serving Guy, and Mr Finesse on the other side. I also felt this way. But I ended up with one more ace than him [12 against 11]."

Federer's bags were packed and he was about to leave for the clay court tournament in Gstaad, where he is due to play Thomas Behrend, of Germany, today. "This time I will be coming home as No 1 as well as Wimbledon champion," Federer said. "I think it will be a special occasion for sports fans in Switzerland."

Last year the organisers in Gstaad presented Federer with a cow, which has since had a calf. Federer thinks two cows are enough, thank you. "I hope they don't give me a sheep, or a pig, or a donkey," he said.

Roddick said that Federer has an aura when he steps into the locker-room. Did Federer remember Pete Sampras having an aura? "Yes, even though Pete wasn't very often in the locker-room. He arrived and left. I have to say I do a little bit of the same. I used to be more a person who liked to hang around the locker-room and the players' lounge, speaking to everybody. But now I'm selfish. I go home. I come and I leave very quickly ... I'd rather spend time with my entourage.

"I remember when Pete was in the locker-room, he was very quiet. I would never go up to talk to him. I was just a junior in the beginning. I had so much respect for him. He was one of my favourite players. Everybody knows that when you are a younger player you don't [command] that respect. Players just come up and speak to you. I feel a lot of players just come up and speak to me.

"I was surprised Andy said that about me having an aura, because in the last two-and-a-half weeks we have hardly seen each other in the locker-room, because he was in a different locker-room, and we've hardly practised at the same time."

What are his priorities? "My goals this year were my Wimbledon defence, the Olympics, and staying No 1 at the end of the season. I'm looking forward to the Olympics, and staying in the Olympic village. I was asked before the Sydney Olympics if I wanted to stay in the village or outside. I stayed in the village and had a great time. Last time I stayed with the wrestlers - I was safe from any attack from anybody. I also met my girlfriend there.

"It's interesting to spend time with other athletes. A lot of athletes are not full-time professionals. They also have to work at other things to make a living. For them I'm like a hero, you know, because I'm so famous and I'm all around the world, and they read about me and follow me. It's nice to share views with everybody, to hear about their sport and their experiences."

Concerning his rivalry with Roddick, Federer said: "The more we play, the better the rivalry gets. The rivalry with Andy is still young and fresh. But now we've played each other twice on very big occasions here in Wimbledon. And this is good for the future of tennis."

What about the 29-year-old Tim Henman, and the media's consensus that the British No 1's best chance has gone? "Of course they say that now. But it's not true. He still has a few years left. I think he still has chances, because he's a great player. People should just be happy that he puts himself in contention every time, because once everything could work together and he will be getting up early in the morning on Monday, doing interviews, like me now the last two years."