Wimbledon 2014: End may be in sight but the old guard refuse to go down without a fight

Tennis truly has its golden generation right now

Who wants a changing of the guard when the old guard can fight like this? This was a match to remind those too quick to look towards tomorrow that sometimes it is better to live for today. This was a breathless final, fluctuating, ferocious, flawed and above all fantastic to sit, watch and marvel at, and then applaud and commit carefully to memory.

Golden generations come and go in football with whirr of hyperbole and precious little achievement. Tennis truly has its golden generation right now and, although Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are heading into the later stages of their precious careers, they remain ahead of the wannabes and one-day will-bes. That was a point hit home across four absorbing hours yesterday afternoon.

Djokovic will be around a while yet; who knows with Federer. There were moments yesterday when the suspicion that he has a portrait wasting away in his attic of his home was strengthened as another one-handed backhand winner flew down the line. Centre Court adores him. There was no doubt the Swiss was the crowd favourite, although after last year’s date with Andy Murray the status of party-pooper was not a new one for Djokovic.

The Serb plays with a dark intensity, as if he were someone with anger management issues trying to keep his temper in check while being buzzed by an inquisitive wasp. When he slipped on the baseline he returned to the spot and glared at it. When a stray voice squeaked from the crowd during one prolonged rally, he turned and glared in its direction before marching over to the umpire to complain. When his game was stuttering in the second set he looked to the skies and yelled his frustration. But the temper always remains in check, diverted into that crashing serve or rapier-like forehand and given vent via only a grunt or groan.

 

Federer plays as if in a silent movie, barely a sound escaping his lips and, with his desire to chip and charge, there was almost something black and white about his tennis yesterday. His style has come to resemble that of any father of four young children given the chance of an afternoon free from the kids; there is no time to waste as the next nappy change or hunt for a mislaid toy is just around the corner.

Whether another Grand Slam, an 18th, is around the corner will be worrying him. It was there on his face as he sat beaten at last on his chair afterwards. The man born on the eighth day of the eighth month came close to his eighth Wimbledon but he was always playing catch-up. He did not break Djokovic’s serve until the fourth set. He turns 33 next month; sporting mortality is catching up. Will he again have such a chance to win on his favourite surface? How long can he still live with Nadal and Djokovic on his less favoured courts, let alone Murray, Stan Wawrinka or Grigor Dimitrov?

His fitness remains true and as the match deepened and opened up like one of the knock-out games at the World Cup he matched Djokovic for each desperate huff and puff. Djokovic recruited Boris Becker to make the difference in just such a situation after five defeats in his six previous finals. This was Federer’s first final since winning here in 2012. That knack of winning in squeaky-bum time is not what it was.

But he was here, and many didn’t expect that of the old Swiss master, and he went the distance when few saw that coming either. The end may be in sight but he is not looking at it yet and neither should we.

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