Wimbledon 2015: Roger Federer defies time and ignores fear to paint masterpieces

The Last Word: Time is a tyrant, unforgiving and ultimately irresistible, but Federer has transformed it into a compassionate mistress

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Time is a tyrant, unforgiving and ultimately irresistible. Roger Federer has transformed it into a compassionate mistress, prepared to postpone the reckoning which afflicts even the greatest athletes.

He will utilise the same seductive powers today, when he seeks to defy the accelerated life-cycle of modern sport and become Wimbledon’s oldest champion of the Open era. The Centre Court will doubtlessly fall at his feet.

Statistics may frame the occasion – his 40th match against Novak Djokovic will be his 26th Grand Slam final and his 10th on the All England lawns – but they fail to offer a glimpse into his soul.  There lies the secret of his longevity. 

Wimbledon is Federer’s ode to joy. It is where he comes to terms with his mortality. The buzz it gives him neutralises the natural fear of decline, justifies the onerous levels of commitment required when all his ambitions have, logically, been fulfilled.

 

He plays smart, rationalising and refreshing his schedule. He understands the emotional attraction of his rivalry with Djokovic, especially after last year’s stellar final between the pair, but does not allow himself to be distracted by its drama.

His gifts are rooted in the grass. His uncannily accurate serve is a silken chord with the strength of steel; it allows him to restrain his opponent and apply incessant pressure before, as in the case of Andy Murray in Friday’s semi-final, suffocating him with a velvet pillow.

Federer is a king with an upstart’s mentality; he is dismissive of custom and practice. Champions are regarded as impermanent commodities, despite the distinctive sense of immortality offered by their achievements.

The Swiss, on the verge of his 34th birthday, defies the culture of impatience which demands new stars and expects players like him to succumb to built-in obsolescence with the predictability of an industry-compliant refrigerator.  

He pleases himself to a large degree. As a result, he uses the Centre Court as his personal gallery. He derives visible pleasure from performances which resemble works of art, featuring light and shade, nuance, perspective.

They draw the viewer in, captivate with fine detail and limitless horizons. Much has been made of his comfort with a new racket, with a bigger head, but that merely enables him to make broader brush strokes, in more vivid colours.

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Federer enjoys the adulation of the crown after beating Murray

His game is inherently creative since it is based upon an awareness of angles and a variation of pace and mood. He has a lightness of being.

In that context, comparisons with other artistic athletes are valid, as another sign of his broader importance. His impact beyond tennis, yet another sport in danger of surrendering subtlety to speed and strength, is the subtext to the final.

Federer has the hair-trigger reflexes of Sugar Ray Leonard, the improvisational skills of Zinedine Zidane. He floats across the court with the grace which defined Sebastian Coe as the best middle-distance runner of his generation, and possesses Sachin Tendulkar’s quiet resolve. 

In another sense, he avoids the desperation and introspection which characterises Tiger Woods’ latest comeback. Defeat is no longer a private death; though he has a considerable ego, he has come to terms with the inner struggle. His powers might be waning – only four of his 17 major titles have come in the last seven years – but his hunger is constant.

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Federer could become the oldest player to win the men's singles

He is sufficiently self-aware to understand his attractions. “People might not know how many more opportunities I’m going to have,” he said, thoughtfully, after Murray had been despatched. He drew a telling comparison with the response to Andre Agassi in his dotage.

Federer will be on his own once the formality of today’s coin toss is complete, but he will not be alone. Djokovic will probably endure, wear him down and out-last him. But should Federer surf the flood tide of popular support and eke out an early lead, he will be a force of nature.

The clock is ticking, but tomorrow will take care of itself. Prepare to bear witness to greatness, for days such as these are gifts from the Gods.

Tour de force

The Tour de France cherishes its courtly conventions of cruelty, so that suffering is somehow ennobling.  Sometimes, the sacrifice justifies suspension of disbelief.

It might still be enmeshed in institutionalised suspicion and tainted by the expulsion of Italian rider Luca Paolini following a positive test for cocaine, but taken on its own terms this year’s race is stunning.

The first week has, more than any in recent memory, been emotionally draining and physically devastating. The Pyrenees lie in wait after the sanctuary of tomorrow’s rest day.

This tour will be decided in the mountains, most probably on the penultimate day, when the survivors will climb, agonisingly, to the Alpine summit of Alpe D’Huez.

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Chris Froome takes the leader's yellow jersey

Modern sport is so sanitised that images of the peleton being punished on rain-lashed cobbles were stark and strangely shocking. Faces were taut, grimy and pierced by pain; in another era they would have been captured on a convicts’ chain gang.

The resilience shown was astonishing. Fabian Cancellara rode on with a broken spine before retiring to hospital; Tony Martin calmly gave post-stage interviews with shards from a shattered collarbone protruding from his left shoulder before doing likewise.

Chris Froome paid him traditional respect, and refused to wear his yellow jersey until Friday’s stage was complete. He may be favoured to win, but he knows he is just another prisoner of fate.

Hereford bullish again

At Edgar Street, in a world far removed from the cesspit in which Raheem Sterling and his acquisitive agent do their business, football’s air is clear and the ambition is authentic.

Hereford marked their return to the ground yesterday afternoon, when a capacity crowd watched a wonderfully symbolic pre-season friendly against FC United of Manchester.

The rite of renewal, for a reformed club which will begin life in the Midland League, the ninth tier of the English game, rewarded the faith and fortitude of fans who refused to allow a dream to die.  Their example is inspiring and invaluable.

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