There are losses that signify the end and tarnish an otherwise beautiful run through a Grand Slam. Roger Federer’s loss to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final signified how great Federer was, even in defeat. And it was a beautiful run by a player in the twilight of his career, yes, but still one of the best on grass.
It was a loss in so much as there had to be a loser. It was a match won, simply put.
Sometimes greatness is second best, and that was the case Sunday.
Federer was beaten, and it took 58 games, two tiebreaks and five sets to do it. He ran into a player in Djokovic who managed to stay on his feet and deliver one of the great championship performances of all time. Federer didn’t lose this match. Djokovic went out and beat him. In no way does that mar Federer’s legacy.
Federer fired off 29 aces and 75 winners. He was killer on first-serve points, winning 77 percent of those. Where Federer lost the match was on his second serve. He only won 44 percent of second-serve points. Another way of looking at that is Djokovic won 56 percent of Federer’s second-service points.
This loss would have an entirely different feel had Djokovic won in straight sets. It would have had a different feel had Djokovic won in four sets. It appeared he was about to. Federer challenged an out call on his first serve facing match point. The call was reversed, and he was given the ace. Federer would hold serve in a run of winning five straight games to force a fifth set.
There was never any let up or any sign that Federer was outclassed or, worst of all, old. He glided around the court and served like a man possessed by Pete Sampras.
A year ago, the questions started. When a 31-year-old Federer lost in the second round of Wimbledon, the questions about whether it was time to hang up the racket began to spring up. He’d never win another Grand Slam (which he still may not). He’d never reach another final (Bazinga).
He had won Wimbledon in 2012, then lost in 2013 in a round historically exited by wild cards and qualifiers.
There’s something sad, at times, about when the Wimbledon crowd members start to cheer for a player. They’re not so much rooting the player on as much as they are pitying the player. We saw it Saturday when Eugenie Bouchard was getting Czech-mated in the second set by Petra Kvitova. The crowd cheered her on to win at least one game. It was so unintentionally patronizing.
Federer, thankfully, avoided the patronizing cheers and instead rallied true enthusiasm and urgings from Wimbledon fans who wanted to see him win one for the second thumb (if he were a character on The Simpsons).
The commentators spoke of the travails Federer might experience because he’s 32, and winning a five-set match at age 32 had never been done.
“I can’t believe I made it to five (sets),” Federer said, per the Daily Mail. “It wasn’t looking good there for a while.”
Even Douglas Robson of USA Today brought attention to the age of Federer. He wrote:
[Djokovic] eventually wore 32-year-old Federer down, breaking him early in the third set, buckling down in the third-set tiebreaker and then holding on to break Federer in the final game for a fourth time. Federer had been broken just once entering the final.
Greg Garber, of ESPN.com, wrote, “In the final analysis—in the final two games, really—Djokovic’s game simply looked five years younger than Federer’s. When Federer’s final fragile backhand found the net, Djokovic was a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 Wimbledon winner.”
That’s the natural order of things. Anything contrary is to summon images of Barry Bonds.
If Federer didn’t already own the record for Grand Slams won, perhaps a loss like this would effectively mar what Federer was able to do in this final. It could have been a sad grasp at a record he’d never reach (see Tiger Woods). If he didn’t own that record, suddenly the fact that he’s won only one Grand Slam since the 2010 Australian Open would feel like he was overstaying his welcome in the upper echelon of men’s tennis.
Sunday’s final signified that, when it comes to grass, Federer can never be discounted, and even finishing second best is a brick to build his legacy, not a chisel breaking it down.
And maybe it was Garber who said it best of this final match, “It will endure.” And so too will Federer.
You see, even in a career where he has amassed 17 Grand Slams, Sunday’s Wimbledon final still managed to be one of the greater moments in his career.