Roger Federer can be king for one last day at Wimbledon
Time was when Wimbledon came around it meant the crowning of Roger Federer once again. Not now . . . or maybe it will be.
Last hurrah: Roger Federer shows the strain as he loses to Rafael Nadal in Paris on Sunday
Federer has been ridiculously written off over the past 18 months as a Grand Slam winner, yet in Paris at the weekend he produced some of his best tennis in that time period — and it was on his least favourite surface.
While Nadal conquered him yet again on the red dirt at Roland Garros it was another captivating finale to a fortnight of sublime tennis and came 48 hours after the Swiss master had ended the 43-match unbeaten run of Novak Djokovic. This is the same Djokovic who had triumphed over Nadal in two clay court finals leading up to Paris.
Without a doubt, years from now we will look back on this period as a golden era for the men’s game. Throw Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro into the mix and you have an A-list cast to savour.
The rivalry between Federer and Nadal has often been the highlight, but now Djokovic has shown that he belongs in the same stratosphere which makes Wimbledon 2011 such a mouth-watering prospect.
For Federer, with the help of new coach Paul Annacone who worked with Pete Sampras, the lawns of SW19 are the chance to enjoy one last great moment in a career which has transcended the sport. Having collected a record 16 Grand Slam titles he can rightly claim to be the greatest player in history but equally he seems as at home in a Vogue photo-shoot as he does on a tennis court.
Many now feel that the dominance of Nadal and Djokovic has in effect ruined his chances of adding to those 16 titles, and as his 30th birthday approaches in August the logic seems to hold up. But that is to overlook Paris and the champion’s heart that beats so ferociously.
Yes, he has not won a major since the Australian Open of 2010, but one last hurrah is still possible and if it is to happen then it will be at this year’s Wimbledon.
Federer feels right at home on the grass and deep down he will know that it is now or never to equal the seven Wimbledon titles of Sampras.
Another title at SW19 would also go a long way to cementing his place as the game’s greatest as many in the sport are more divided than ever, such is the rise and rise of Nadal.
Nadal leads their head-to-head series 17-8. That includes a 6-2 advantage in grand slam finals and a 5-0 edge at the French Open (in the 2005 semi-finals, and the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 finals).
“The game of Rafael is not too good for Roger,” says Nadal’s coach uncle Toni, adding that Federer's “mentality against Rafael is not the best”.
Together they have produced a rivalry to match that of Ali-Frazier, Prost-Senna and Borg-McEnroe, and it may be that the last grand day out for these two will come on Centre Court on July 3.
Together they have already enjoyed three such occasions, the most memorable in 2008 when at around 9.15pm with flashbulbs lighting up the dark sky Federer netted a forehand to hand Nadal his crown.
One final epic is what Fededer now craves, one last time to conquer his greatest rival, one moment to weave his genius on his favourite stage — and he’s in the form to do just that.
After that, father time allied with the high intensity of Nadal and Djokovic looks likely to keep Federer’s hands off the US, Aussie and French Open crowns, leaving another shot at Wimbledon glory a long way off.
Federer will not go away quietly, though, and he has already stated that he will be playing the London 2012 Olympics, which are being staged at SW19.
But Olympic gold can wait, it is that old Midas touch in two weeks time he wants to feel when Wimbledon’s doors open once more.
It’s now or never.