Like Swiss chocolate on the grass court

f great memories sustain great players — and the older they get, the truer that becomes — Roger Federer is drawing on one of his most cherished while he goes in pursuit of Pete Sampras’s record seven Wimbledon titles in the next fortnight: last year’s win over Andy Roddick.

“What do I remember most about it?” he replies, to a perhaps obvious question. “His backhand he missed. My saving of the break point in the fifth. My 50 aces. The match point. Holding up the trophy and being tired afterwards. Almost still, today. That’s about it.”

There might be a more succinct description of genius, but it would have to be better than that one. That’ about it: All wrapped up in one pithy recollection of an afternoon of drama that dragged the combatants into a five-set dogfight.

The defending champion moves over the lawns of Wimbledon like a visiting prince come to collect his tithe. For now, Federer jostles for favouritism with Rafael Nadal of Spain, who is seeded second here and rated number one overall in the men’s game on the back of four clay-court titles on the spin, in which he has played some remarkable tennis.

This is a part of the tennis cycle that brings together a roadshow that started this year so brilliantly for Federer on the hardcourts in Melbourne, delivered pain for him and joy for Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros in Paris and now asks these two outstanding and contrasting talents to duke it out on the third surface, one that has been Federer’s manor, more or less, since he beat Sampras in 2001.

Was there room in the fight, we wondered, for Andy Murray, whom Federer devastated in the final in Melbourne? “Yes. Regardless of what happened between here and the Australian Open, Andy is one of the big favourites for this tournament. For me, for [Novak] Djokovic and for Murray it’s been, to some degree, a bit of a disappointing past few months. But I think Murray also played incredible tennis at the Australian Open.

“So, here we are again at a grand slam. You have to maybe ignore what happened in between and remember the last time you played a best-of-five-set match. This was when he was very tough. I think that’s why maybe it favours the big guys. Andy’s obviously one of them.”

Federer didn’t mind losing his world number-one ranking to his chief antagonist, Nadal. “It doesn’t change a whole lot, because I don’t think I can get my ranking back here anyway. It’s about winning Wimbledon,” he said. “Mentally, I didn’t go crazy after my loss at the French.”

For Federer, the field of dangerous enemies is restricted to a handful of players, mostly on the other side of the draw. Inclusion in this elite club does not flatter Murray; he deserves to be there. —

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Kevin Mitchell
Kevin Mitchell works from Dublin. I am a neurogeneticist interested in the genetics of brain wiring and its contribution to variation in human faculties. Author of INNATE (2018). Kevin Mitchell has over 20805 followers on Twitter.

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