A few years ago, while having dinner with a group of Federer fans, we came to the topic (as we do always) of Nadal.
“I still think Federer has a best-of-5 set win over Nadal in him,” I declared to the table, and was promptly mocked back to Basel.
“Nadal’s too in his head!” everyone said.
“It’s a bad match up for Roger!”
“Nah, it’s over.”
But somehow, I believed. Partly because I’m naturally inclined to optimistic delusions, and partly because – Federer being the kitschy fairytale that he is – this was precisely the kind of plot line that Federer’s career needed. The ageing veteran conquering his achilles heel. Beating the one rival who always eluded him. Redemption in the most emphatic of ways.
As his compatriot would quote:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
This time, he failed better.
And make no mistake, he failed plenty in the final – going down a double break in the second set after playing first strike tennis most of the first set, losing momentum in the fourth after breadsticking Rafa just the previous set, taking a medical time out only to come out cold in the fifth and going down an early break.
But I kept thinking back to one of his more insightful moments in the semifinal post-match interview, when Federer acknowledged that his early losses against Rafa on clay affected the way he played him on other surfaces.
This level of insight was something that – just a few years back – he would get defensive about. Confronting and admitting the mental aspect of his struggles against Nadal appears to have been liberating, and this time, despite failing throughout the match to maintain momentum, Federer kept on asking the question, and found the answer to #18.
What else is left to say? 6 months off. Ranked #17. Coming into the tournament as the underdog no one talked about. Beats 4 top 10 players en route to the title. Defeats his greatest rival in 5 sets after being down a break in the fifth. And with this win, he has gone semifinals or better in his last FIVE grand slams. We could not have scripted this any better.
Happy 18th Roger. You just came of a whole new age.
(You didn’t think I wouldn’t resurface for THIS did ya?)