Ranjona Banerji: Roger won eight ways from Sunday

Jul 19, 2017, 06:08 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Federer will be 36 on August 8. Cilic is 28. But on the Sunday of July 16, age was irrelevant, a bit of meaningless huffery-puffery

Roger Federer holds the winner's trophy after beating Marin Cilic in the men's singles final match on the last day of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships. Pic/AFP
Roger Federer holds the winner's trophy after beating Marin Cilic in the men's singles final match on the last day of the 2017 Wimbledon Championships. Pic/AFP

Four years ago, in 2013, I covered Wimbledon for this newspaper. Four years ago, I sat on Centre Court for the first time in my life, on the first Monday, waiting for defending champion Roger Federer to arrive on Centre Court for the traditional opening match of the tournament. And it was a beauty of the match, as the wizard dispatched the tall Victor Hanescu of Romania.

Two days later, Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine swept Federer aside with some inspired grass court tennis. My mother called me to ask: "You went all the way to Wimbledon to watch Federer lose?"

Ouch!

It was in 2012 that Federer won his seventh Wimbledon and what most considered his last and 17th Grand Slam title. He met Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon finals of 2014 and 2015, but in spite of some magical and sublime tennis, could not defeat the Serbian. Meanwhile, a knee injury at the 2016 Australian Open —slipping on a toy while bathing his children — made last year one of Federer's worst on the tour. It was almost a relief for fans and wellwishers when, after losing to Milos Raonic at the semis at Wimbledon, Federer took the rest of the year off.

I wrote about Federer's spectacular win over Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open final in January this year. It was an emotional moment for everyone, not least for me in a personal sense because I had just lost my mother, an enormous tennis and Federer fan. But even then, I had no sense of just how well Federer's 2017 would be. Loss can deprive you of hope even when life throws precious nuggets of joy at you.

Besides, as a tennis fan, you tell yourself, the man is 35, he has won his 18th Grand Slam, he has defeated his biggest rival Nadal several times this year, he has won other big tournaments... to want anything more from him is gluttony — a deadly sin far worse than mere greed. And yet, the heart is an irrational organ when it is not pumping blood here and there and maybe even then.

So this year's Wimbledon, with a Federer refreshed after skipping the clay court season, a kernel of hope appeared inside the heart of every Federer fan.

As the tournament progressed, he got better and better. He did not lose a set. His serve was barely broken. He went through the toughest draw compared to the others of the "big four". And he stayed the course as Nadal, then Djokovic and Andy Murray succumbed to fighting opponents, to pressure, to internal devils and to external injuries.

Federer took 'revenge' on Raonic in the quarter-finals for the 2016 loss. Can the kernel of hope be allowed to grow? Federer despatched with experience, skill and mental toughness the challenge of a determined Tomas Berdych in the semi-final.

And then there was Marin Cilic on the other side for the final. Cilic, the powerful Croat, with whom Federer had fought one tough five-setter at Wimbledon last year. Cilic, who had defeated him in the 2014 US Open semi-final en route to his first Grand Slam title.

Federer will be 36 on August 8. Cilic is 28. But on the Sunday of July 16, age was irrelevant, a bit of meaningless huffery-puffery. Cilic was nervous, Cilic was hurting, Cilic cried with frustration, blistered as he was one set and 0-3 down, unable to find the answers to Federer's play, and completely incapable of taking advantage of Federer's early nervousness.

There are those who will say the final was not a tough enough match or a match at all. What do they know of sports? Should Federer have stopped the match halfway through and asked the umpire for a tougher opponent? Should Nadal have stopped demolishing Stan Wawrinka at the French Open this year and demanded a more challenging match? The logic of habitual naysayers is always faulty. And a win is a win!

For me, and many more of us who appreciate the beauty of sport and of Federer, 2017 has been a year of mastery and magic. Federer has 19 Grand Slam titles and stands alone as the only man to win eight Wimbledon titles. He won it with grace, skill and honour. We are privileged to have been part of it.

Dare the heart crave for more?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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