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By Chris Oddo | Saturday July 15, 2017

 
Roger Federer

On the eve of his eleventh Wimbledon final, we run out of superlatives trying to describe what Roger Federer's legacy on grass means.

Photo Source: Camera Sport

We’ve all seen the cracks in his armor, and yet they won’t be remembered.

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This will be remembered: Streamlined Aggression. Honed precision. A game that contradicts his generation as well as the brutish, terminally modernizing world we live in. He is Father Timeless. Roger Federer, architect of the anti-grind, master of this era and all eras. Beatable for a time, even stretches, but ultimately unstoppable, a cosmic, teeming force that defies the sway of the sport and even the age we live in.

That’s the Swiss maestro in a nutshell. If there was ever a player whose footwork should be set to a Beethoven sonata or a Chopin nocturne, it’s the Basel born and bred. Federer, the guy who dances on air while his fellow icons toil below. They are low to the ground, desperately flying ants to his meandering butterfly, viscerally beating the ball and their opponents to oblivion while Federer kills them with the kindness of a drop volley that seems to stop time.

Halt! Look around. Centre Court. Perfect green grass, white lines, pastels dot the 15,000 green-backed seats, puffy summer clouds float by above.

This is Wimbledon. Where it all begins and where it all ends.


Cue the string quartet. Frame and hang the Vermeer. Break out the Sartre quotes: “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point,” is what Federer’s tennis says to the world; whether he wins or loses in Sunday’s final with Marin Cilic (surely he’ll win) it is the elegance that succeeds. That he could develop, implement and thrive with such a regal, nuanced game in an era of physical immediacy so chilling, is a marvel in and of itself.

In a way it seems to be a case of happenstance that Federer has emerged as the generational talent of modern tennis (and sport). It’s as if his goal from day one was simply to execute the most beautiful, refined tennis possible, and by some strange coincidence the Tennis Gods took notice and ensured that he donned the cloak and dagger and ascended to the throne ahead of the mechanical beasts that dot the sporting landscape.

They are behemoths and he is beguiling.

Now here Roger Federer is in his 19th Wimbledon, 35 years young, hitting a level of peak performance that most considered unattainable this time last year. With that chronically bad back and those knobby knees? Out of the question!

Historically, it hasn’t been done, but hang on a second.

Into the Wimbledon final without the loss of a set for the third time in his career, Federer’s rejuvenated and—as always—in complete harmony with the grass. Its quickness allows his strokes to bite harder; its slipperiness accentuates the gap between his own pristine footwork and the more thunderous yet less effective movement of the competition. Federer, the ultimate throwback, was made for tennis’ original surface. He flummoxes all comers, he dallies as they die, he darts and delivers daggers that wrong-foot, he spot-serves like a sniper, keeping returners off balance as he waltzes into the net to punch off volley winners.

There’s so much Federer can do to hurt them on grass, and very little they can do to hurt him because he has cleverly crafted a way to dictate from first ball. He doesn’t fight power with power unless he’s trapped into it; typically he’ll defuse power in a way that leaves the power broker off-kilter and lacking a way to mete out his preferred form of punishment.

It’s a mind-bending way to play.

Federer’s stringbed makes contact at the intersection of art and tennis and geometry. A technical and tactical virtuoso, he thinks and reacts on a different level. His processing power is unmatched. That quiet head, practically immovable until contact, is calculating cruel fates for his opponents. On Wimbledon’s Centre Court, others play checkers while Federer plays chess.


That’s what we’ll see on Sunday, whether he wins or loses against Marin Cilic (he’ll surely win). The Croatian, a talented player in his own right, will try to blast Federer off the court. If he’s on, he’ll manage to make inroads.

But there is another layer to the “Federer as Religious Experience” theme this year at Wimbledon. There’s a “Phoenix Rising from the Ashes” theme as well. That’s because we all thought he was done. If not four years ago when he was bounced out of Wimbledon by the serve-and-volleying journeyman Sergiy Stakhovsky, then perhaps 2014 and 2015, when even his most inspired efforts couldn’t get him past Wimbledon usurper Novak Djokovic in consecutive title bouts. If we didn’t stick the dagger in him at that moment, then we most certainly did last year when he blew what might have been his last great chance to win an eighth Wimbledon title by falling—both literally and figuratively—to Canada’s Milos Raonic in the semifinals.

Obituaries have proven to be premature.

Turns out six months away from the tour were all that was needed to enliven the game of tennis’ most spectacular showpiece.

Vengeance doesn’t suit Roger Federer, but venerable certainly does. Whatever words one chooses, he’s back. And superlatives are quickly running out at SW19 as he prepares to contest his eleventh Wimbledon final on Sunday.

Get those superlatives while they are hot.

Sublime serenity. Regal resistance. Prolonged perfection.

The Swiss’ gaudy display of longevity as players five years his junior buckle under the strain of their own physical playing style is Federer’s latest crowning achievement. If he was already the greatest men’s tennis player in history, what is he now that he has rediscovered the dominance of a decade ago at an age where tennis players are supposed to be retired?

Here at Wimbledon the chasm grows wider. On grass he is sublime, an architect of expression where style and the substance merge. There’s complexity to his attack, and sophistication in his approach.

And so it has come to this. One match for Wimbledon infamy and all the trappings. Champagne corks will pop, his name will be chanted, and the aesthetics, as always, will be front and center.

You can look at the number eight and marvel that he’s soon to pass Sampras and Renshaw, but the real marvel lies in what Federer has always done against all odds: Elegance in a brutal sport at an astounding level of success. Nobody has done it better, nobody ever will—nobody even comes close.

 

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