There is a tendency for tennis observers to take Roger Federer for granted at this point.
He's been so good for so long that some lump all his victories together. However, those of us who follow the details closely know that, for the past two or three years, Federer has worked hard to make adjustments in his game in order to keep playing at the highest level and compete with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
He had to learn to play more aggressively, to refine and keep improving his serve and to fight off some frequent lapses in confidence in big matches.
Yet, Federer has somehow pulled this off. As he won his seventh Wimbledon title and 17th Grand Slam event today, he displayed some of these "new" strengths and adjustments in his game.
He had more "belief" out there than in some of his Grand Slam matches in the recent past—such as his 2011 loss at Wimbledon to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who came back from a two-set deficit to beat Roger.
Indeed, Federer has experienced many moments in the 2009-2012 period when he failed to win big points like he did in the past. Today, Federer's ground strokes and serve were consistent and he went more on the offensive as the match wore on—which seemed necessary to defeat Murray.
Let's be clear here: it took the best of Federer's game to defeat Murray today.
Andy Murray, in my view, played the match of his life. I know he's played some terrific matches, but I've never seen him look better than he did in the first two sets today.
He was more hungry and focused than ever. He was wasting no time between points—as he has at times. He was more aggressive than ever (for him).
He often has a tendency to get into long rallies and seem not as interested as he should be in ending them with more offense. Today, he was belting the ball all over the court.
This brings me back to Federer. I cannot imagine the Federer I saw in parts of 2010, for instance, playing like he did versus Murray today.
The Federer of 2010, I think, would have lost his "belief" after a bad setback—such as losing the first set. If he made some unforced errors, he might have grown discouraged and made a lot for the whole match.
Yet, Federer, with the help of his coach, Paul Annacone, has learned how to play with a new, aggressive approach. As he's grown used to it, he's gotten his confidence back—especially at the big points.
Today, I ask, did any of you expect to see Federer, at age 30—near 31—playing as well as he did first against Djokovic Friday, and then today against Murray?
I am amazed he's still playing at this level. I've heard all the commentators say, repeatedly, in the past two or three years, "this may be Roger's last chance for a Slam."
As the months and Slam events passed each year without Roger winning, I certainly had large doubts that he could win this 17th.
I think the odds have been against Federer all along to accomplish what he did today. Tennis observers should focus more on the unlikelihood of how truly unusual it its for any of the best tennis players in the world to adjust and improve their game at the end part of their career and, in doing so, win more tournaments and Grand Slams.
Federer is, I think, even more rare of an athlete than he has perhaps been given credit for. Yes, I know he's had more praise and attention heaped on him than anyone but, in a crazy way, his victory today was perhaps more impressive than any of his previous 16 Grand Slam wins.
Federer defied all the odds. You've all heard the stats: Arthur Ashe was the last male player over 30 to win Wilmbledon and Andre Agassi was the last man over 30 to win a Slam. That was the Australian Open in 2003.
All I know is that I watched Andy Murrary play his best tennis ever today and watched Federer, the supposedly "aging" player in decline, play a superb match. It seemed like the clock had turned back several years.
It's incredibly unusual—in any sport—for an athlete to sustain his or her high level at the tail end of a career. Roger Federer has separated himself from most in the way he played today at Wimbledon.
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