Roger Federer Aims for Greatness Again at London Olympics

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Roger Federer Aims for Greatness Again at London Olympics
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

For a player so accomplished as Roger Federer, it is hard to find an ornament lacking in his crowded crown.

Having already one of the most complete tennis games in history, he has possessed just about every tennis great's career in nutshells. He has Borg's five straight Wimbledons, Agassi's Career Grand Slam, has been to the final of all four grand slams in a calendar year multiple times like Rod Laver, is matching the longevity of the feisty Connors and all the while plays with the fiery quiet of Sampras.

Somewhere in there one is likely to find elements of his idols—Boris Becker in the serve, McEnroe in deft touch, Edberg with the volleys and Lendl in commanding one-handed groundstrokes. 

The one ornament that does stand out for its absence is a singles gold medal at the Olympics. He won gold in 2008 with Stanislas Wawrinka, but in doubles; for all the diffidence with which Federer has sought to placate the inevitable questions on the pressure he might face on trying to win one in singles, however, he is sure to be no less than terribly upset should he not do so. The grandest tasks in tennis demand the steepest of climbs to complete.

No fewer than seven different men have won gold in singles at the Olympics (six officially, with the 1984 event not having been fully recognised), and among them only four having been grand slam champions—Edberg in 1984, Kafelnikov in 2000, Agassi in 1996 and Nadal in 2008. For an achievement only quadriennally possible, and thereby more precious than victory at a grand slam, winning gold at the Olympics has been something rarely achieved by the greats.

Tennis is a calendar sport, and careers are defined over years, not single events. It is for that reason that the gold of Nicholas Massu, for instance, in 2004 will only ever be remembered for it. Precisely because it is so rare an opportunity to win something that will define one's career in a unique—I refrain from calling it something totally exceptional or transcendental—the winner has been someone who has held momentum coming into the tournament.

Nadal had it four years ago, when he had won Wimbledon for the first time—winning perhaps the greatest final ever played there, and then gone on to win at Toronto and reach the semis at Cincinnati.

Federer four years later has something similar going on. He added most recently to his list of shared careers when he emulated Sampras' seven Wimbledons and total 286 weeks at No. 1 to bring him to his 17th major, and perhaps possession of records out of reach for as long as we will have to wait for the next Roger Federer.

Momentum is on the Swiss' side, and at a crucial juncture. The gold medal in singles is just about the only thing of significant grandeur he still seeks, and which he might never again get a chance to win. Whats more he has a chance to earn it at historic Wimbledon, in a symphony of history and opportunity perhaps never to be had again. 

As the reigning world No. 1 and Wimbledon champion, it's hard to imagine a more suitable scenario for him to enter the Olympics. He may well go down as the only man to enter three Olympics events seeded No. 1.

Winning again may not be easy, however. His bogey man Nadal has withdrawn, but remaining still are Djokovic, whom he is seeded to face in the final; and Murray, who becomes an unknown quantity as a possible semifinalist for either. Then, there are such danger men as Tomas Berdych, Andy Roddick, John Isner or Milos Raonic, who are well placed to take advantage of the lottery a three-set match on grass presents.

Federer's grip over tennis may be brief—it's easy to imagine the calumniatory depths journalists will stoop to should he be beaten at the Olympics, early or late. He is expected to win, and enters a favourite. Greatness only lasts for as long as the week does. Federer's lasts for now, and it may last longer should he win gold in singles.

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