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Federer is back where he belongs

July 8, 2012 05:30 PM
Roger Federer with his seventh Wimbledon trophy.
Roger Federer celebrates on match point that gave him his seventh Wimbledon title.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

WIMBLEDON, England - Exactly where does a man of 30 with a record 16 Grand Slam titles get his motivation? And why would Roger Federer continue to put in hour after on the practice court and travel the world again and again when he has a wife and two beautiful twin daughters? 
Because he wasn’t done racking up accomplishments in his sport yet and was growing tired of hearing that like so many other greats in the past, he had fallen out of prime and could no longer really compete for Slam titles with the younger and stronger likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal around. 
But Federer never really bought that argument, even when the Serbian and the Spaniard out ran him, and the top 10 likes of Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stunned him at 2010 and 2011 Wimbledon. The All England Club is the place where he felt so familiar. When he walked out on court for the final against Britain’s beloved Andy Murray, he feel that it was supposed to be this way all along: the grass, the quiet before points begin, the return of the brilliant shot making and the roars of adulation after points end. 
In his fourth Grand Slam final and his first final day at Wimbledon, Murray often played brilliantly, but it was not enough: Federer is godlike on grass when he’s playing his best and there was little Murray could do to stop him in the Swiss’ 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Federer was quicker, more powerful off his forehand side, tougher on the big points and significantly better when tossing the ball up to serve. 
After his record tying seventh Wimbledon title and 17th major overall, the Swiss discussed the secret to his continued success.
"I drew a lot of inspiration from other great athletes in other sports," he said. "I think like Pete [Sampras] and [Stefan] Edberg and [Boris] Becker, maybe [Michael] Jordan, Tiger Woods, Valentino Rossi. They inspire me to keep on pushing further. Not just being happy with world No. 1 or being happy with a Grand Slam title, but maybe to reach for more. Then obviously I have to drive myself. But you sometimes do need to see someone else do it for a long time so that you feel it is actually possible."
Murray captured the hearts of millions after the loss, as he had to stop speaking twice during his runner-up speech because he couldn’t hold back the tears. They began to flow when he uttered the words "I’m getting closer" and again when he said "It’s not going to be easy." His mother Judy wept, as did his girlfriend Kim Sears, as did current players like Sania Mirza and ex-players like Lindsay Davenport.
The UK will have to wait another year before it can exorcise the ghost of Fred Perry, the last British man to win the title in 1936. 
"I’d be playing the wrong sport if I wasn't emotional," Murray said. 
But Federer, who has also let the tear ducts flow in public, did not. This time his victory was one to smile about. He got to share it with his twins, his mother, Lynette, his father, Robert, and his wife, Mirka. It might not have completely wiped out the difficult Grand Slam loses that he had taken since he won his 16th major title at 2010 Australian Open - which include Djokovic’s two five-set wins over him in the 2010 and 2011 US Open semis - out of his head, but it sure did take the sting out.
"I knew how close I was for the last few years, and some people didn't quite see that maybe out of different reasons," he said. "But I knew and I think the belief got me to victory today."
With the 30-year-old Federer’s and the 30-year-old Serena Williams title runs, the sport can begin to identify what could be a new trend toward players staying relevant later in their careers: it was the first time since 1975 Wimbledon, when Americans Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King won singles titles, that the event had two champs 30 or older.
Federer believes he has continued to improve, "I hope so - God, I've practiced so much that you don't want to be worse five years later," he said. And it’s hard to argue against that as it’s the only way to keep up with the mid-20s set of elite players.
Murray never doubted the Swiss’ ability to go toe-to-toe with he, Djokovic and Nadal this season or last. Federer still has more variety than any of those players and while it’s increasingly difficult for him to grind with them on slower surfaces, on quick grass courts that play to his on-rushing strengths, he still is a player apart. 
And by the way, he has seized the No. 1 ranking back and this week will tie his idol Sampras with 286 overall weeks at No. 1. Then he will pass him a week later. There aren’t many records left for him to break, but it doesn’t seem to matter to him. Federer is right back where he wants to be.
"A lot of people have been asking me, Has he started slipping? Is he not playing as well? If you look at the matches he lost the last couple years, very, very close matches, matches he definitely could have won," Murray said. "You know, he could be sitting on 20 Grand Slams if one point or a couple inches here or there. So he's still playing great tennis. I don't think you get to No. 1 unless you deserve it."


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