Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Roger is a Bjorn winner who can become the greatest

Roger Federer did not quite sink to his knees and pray to the heavens in the great tradition of Bjorn Borg.

He thought about it, but then rolled on to his back to create his own unique slant on history after equalling Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles with a 7-6 4-6 7-6 2-6 6-2 epic victory against Rafael Nadal.

Up in the Royal Box Borg smiled admiringly and applauded softly, recognising the champion's achievement in drawing level with him on 11 Grand Slams in what turned out to be arguably the toughest match of his life.

It was a fact Federer, now three behind Pate Sampras' all-time record of 14, was happy to acknowledge, saying: "I told Rafa at the net he deserved it as well. I'm the lucky one today."

Not quite. The 14,000 packed in to Centre Court were the most fortunate as they saw the worst Wimbledon in years transformed with the best final since Goran Ivanisevic beat Pat Rafter on People's Monday back in 2001.

That final was packed with emotion. This one was brimming with three hours and 45 minutes of brilliant tennis and compelling drama.

A match which twisted and turned as Nadal sought to bring his superiority on clay to the grass of SW19.

A match in which Federer was bundled from his comfort zone by the muscle man from Majorca, so much so that the champion let fly a four-letter word while complaining about line machine Hawk-Eye midway through the fourth set.

"How in the world was that ball in?" Federer moaned to umpire Carlos Ramos. "S***, it's killing me today."

The BBC promptly apologised for his language but they needn't have. This was sport in the raw, a match of high class, so fiercely fought that it could have been a scene from 'Gladiator.'

And when he had kissed the famous trophy and paraded it around Centre Court Federer embraced Borg and said: "It was a huge occasion and pressure with Bjorn Borg sitting there as well as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Boris Becker.

"It's a big moment for me and to lift the trophy is a very special memory for all my life.

"We gave each other a Swedish hug. It was very nice because we like each other. So to see him after the match was very fitting."

It all began with a thundering ace from Federer and a first set of wonderful rallies, huge hitting and one break of serve each before it went to the tie-break.

It could not have been more dramatic, Nadal saving four set points, the last after he challenged a call of out on his forehand and Hawk-Eye agreed the ball had nicked the line.

The final volley which took the breaker 9-7, however, was pure Federer, punched away with panache.

Borg took a comfort break at this point and who could blame him?

If there was a dip in the second it was barely noticeable, except that this time it was Nadal stepping up the pressure, forcing Federer to serve three straight aces to save serve in the sixth game.

In the end, however, it hinged on a bizarre incident when Nadal made a winner sitting on his backside after Federer appeared to hesitate, apparently thrown by a serve of his own which looked wide but was called in. No challenge came, although replays showed the ball was out and Nadal capitalised to level the match.

For the first time there was an irritation in Federer's placid demeanour.

The third set could have gone either way but it was the fourth which held the real drama, Federer fighting with his karma, a medical time-out as Nadal had treatment for a knee tendon injury and the unusual sight of seeing Federer lose four games in a row.

That he was able to regroup and save four break points in the fifth was the measure of a true champion, especially when he was 15-40 down on his serve in the fifth game.

"I was imagining it was slipping away," admitted Federer. "It was a tough moment, I was nervous."

But he added: "I was already crying when up 5-2 but had to stay pretty relaxed, then the next game started love 15 and I said to myself 'Oh my God, this is going too well."'

Then came the moment of history, more tears and a warning to the rest that he is now on the trail of Sampras.

The Swiss added: "I feel fit to go on for many more years.

"I'd love to equal Pete's record. To be with my former hero is very nice but I'm not there yet."

Nadal said: "I had big chances in the fifth but I didn't feel I played worse than him from the baseline. If there was a difference maybe it was the serve.

"The best player in history has 14 Grand Slams, he has 11. He's very close and playing unbelievably.

"In my opinion his tennis level is the best in history. But I am young and improving."

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