Wimbledon 2012: Roger Federer talks perfection
Roger Federer seems to enter every tournament in a fresh blaze of headlines, writes Marianne Bevis
The boy can’t help it—though perhaps as the poster-boy for a burgeoning band of 30-somethings in men’s tennis, Roger Federer deserves something more decorous than such a youthful term of endearment.
But whatever the description—tennis’s elder statesman, Wimbledon’s most prolific active winner of singles titles, his sport’s biggest record-breaker—Federer seems to enter every tournament in a fresh blaze of headlines.
During the week that he began his Wimbledon preparations, it was all to do with money.
Forbes magazine announced that Federer is the fifth-highest earning athlete in the world and the best paid tennis player.
The magazine described his collection of sponsors as “the most impressive endorsement portfolio in sports, with nine sponsors that collectively pay him more than $30m annually.”
Many of those partner brands complement his Swiss image—Credit Suisse, Jura, Lindt—because, as another of them, Nationale Suisse, proclaims, he is “the perfect partner. He projects a positive image of Switzerland all over the world.”
It’s a word that crops up time and again: perfect. Turn, for example, to another of those luxury Swiss brands, Rolex, which released a publicity piece timed to hit the Internet just ahead of Wimbledon.
It’s handy, of course, that Rolex features prominently at the All England Club as the timekeeper of choice for the tournament of choice, but it’s upon Wimbledon itself that Federer lavishes the adjective: “For me, obviously, Wimbledon is just perfection.
“Everything the tournament does is—I love it—whether it’s the ivy on the wall, whether it’s the perfect cut grass…I don’t know, it just all makes sense to me.”
It’s a love affair that began in 1998 when he won the junior title. It continued in his first visit as a senior in 1999—the first of what will, this year, mark 14 straight seasons in the main draw. It continued through 2001 when, not yet quite 20, he reached the quarter-finals, though that is not the memory he treasures most. He met, played and beat his childhood hero, Pete Sampras, in a five-set battle worthy of its significance.
Federer would eventually overtake the Sampras record for Grand Slam titles, a process that began on Centre Court in 2003.
Federer’s first Major would mark a run of six titles from seven straight finals, but he comes to Wimbledon in Olympic year on the back of two quarterfinal finishes and aiming to end a nine-Slam drought, a nine-Slam sweep dominated by a pair of players if not quite 10 years his junior—as Federer is to Sampras—then still with time to win many more.
All the more reason, Federer believes, for him take up the gauntlet that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have thrown down—and perhaps tackle a couple more of Sampras’s records.
“I think it’s up to somebody else to break that mould: I hope I can do that. Obviously Novak stood out the most because of his amazing streak last year, winning again in Australia and going for the Grand Slam. Obviously Rafa was able to defend his French Open title. It wasn’t a surprise, but it’s always impressive to see Rafa do that. So hopefully it’s my time of the year now—or someone else’s.
“As long as they’re No1 and No2, they face each other in the semis: It’s maybe a good thing for them, a hard thing for us. At the same time, I’m very close to breaking that, and hopefully I can make a run here at Wimbledon.”
And then, it seemed, his heart rather than his head began to speak.
“I am dreaming of the title, there’s no denying that. But, of course, I’ve played two quarterfinals now the last couple years. I want to do better, I have to do better…maybe a bit unfortunate at times, maybe the other guys were just too good, maybe I wasn’t quite at my best, who knows what the combination was. But it’s up to me to make that difference now and take it to the next step.
“Over a two‑, three‑week period, a lot of things can go wrong or can go right for you. If you come through, it’s a beautiful feeling.
“Then once hopefully I am there, I can reach for the title. A seventh would be amazing. I think that would be tying Pete, which I think would be absolutely fantastic…admiring Pete when I was younger.
Then the “perfect” word appeared again—not about Wimbledon but about his confidence:
“I’ve won very many tournaments, so many matches the last year or so that I feel perfect in this regard.”
The closing word, though, was altogether more visceral from the perfectly turned out man—his white, retro jumper trimmed with the All England Club’s own green and purple—sitting before his inquisitors:
“The hunger is obviously big. I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on that, I’ve explained many times how hungry and motivated I am to be playing, playing at this high level, wanting to win the big tournaments. This is obviously one of them.”
And more than all the perfect shot-making on the perfect English courts that have taken so many records in the past, it may be that hunger which draws him level with Sampras’s seven and reclaims the No1 ranking.