It’s become a standard in the tennis arenas of the world. Tina Turner cranked up to full voice as Roger Federer walks onto court, or wins another set, or closes in on one more title.
Flushing Meadow played it during the US Open final.
Rome belted it out as Federer took the first set off Novak Djokovic.
Shanghai erupted like a blue cauldron around which Tina reverberated.
But the one place in the world that resists the carnival atmosphere—the quiet centre around which the world’s tennis roadshow revolves—became the place where Tina’s words were made flesh.
Roger Federer—himself the quiet centre of this emerald kingdom—won his 15th Grand Slam title today, and officially became the best man ever to wield a tennis racquet.
Tina may have been absent when King Federer was actually crowned, but her words were especially appropriate at Wimbledon.
This was the scene of Federer’s very first Slam win in 2003, and he has reached every final of this tournament since. On only one of those occasions did he fail to win—and then just by a hair’s breadth, last year, against Rafael Nadal in one of the most intensely fought matches ever seen on Centre Court.
Last year was a different Federer, though. 2008 began with glandular fever, and his immune system and fitness struggled throughout the year. At Wimbledon itself, he bore the facial scar of a cyst and the mental scar of a brutal beating at Roland Garros.
Nadal ate away at his ranking points, and new names picked him off—not least Andy Murray and Djokovic.
After Federer’s Wimbledon loss came defeat at the Olympics and the capitulation of the No. 1 ranking he had held for 237 weeks. Eventually he was forced off the tennis treadmill with back injury.
But Federer is no ordinary competitor.
Although the start of 2009 saw Nadal heading away over the horizon, and Murray and Djokovic snapping at his heels, Federer continued to plough his own furrow.
He resisted calls to take on a trainer, and refuted media claims that his best was behind him. And, as is so often the case, Federer proved that he knows best.
The time out for rehab, marriage and intensive training brought him back to his pre-2008 form. He came into Wimbledon 2009 on the back of two straight titles from Madrid and the French Open, and with the baying critics off his back.
His game at his favourite Slam improved with each successive round, and pundits started to sit up and take notice. The Federer quality, panache and class were back in full working order. And—most worryingly of all for his opponents—he looked relaxed and confident.
Early rounds saw him practise a newly-cultivated drop shot, his serve-and-volley and a rejuvenated backhand that alternated between offensive and defensive in the blink of an eye.
And the engine house of his game, the serve, oiled itself into perfect order. By the semifinal against Tommy Haas, he was hitting 75 percent of his first serves—identical to that of Andy Roddick in his semi.
So like some perfectly crafted screenplay, Federer and Roddick joined forces in the very place they first battled it out in a Grand Slam. The year Federer won that first golden cup, in 2003, he beat Roddick in the semifinal.
They have met at Wimbledon twice since, both times in the final, both times ending in victory for Federer.
But all of their Wimbledon matches have been closely contested, and many have involved tie breaks.
They know each other’s games very well, and respect each other even more. Roddick, after all, has spent eight straight years in the top 10 and has been working harder this year than ever before. That’s the kind of attitude that Federer understands and admires.
But no one could have anticipated just how closely fought this final would be.
In the first set, Roddick saved four break points at 5-5, and then broke Federer to win it.
The momentum stayed with Roddick into the second set, but they headed into a dramatic tie break that, in retrospect, may have decided the outcome of the match. Roddick went up 6-2, only to see Federer pull him back point by point to take the set.
In the third set, Federer seemed temporarily to lose concentration, and Roddick pushed him to another tie break. This one became a mirror image of the first, this time with Federer up 5-1. He too was pulled back to 6-5, but sealed it with his serve to take a two sets to one lead.
As though deliberately cranking up the tension, Roddick broke early in the fourth set when Federer’s serve and footwork went AWOL, and Roddick held firm to serve it out. Determination personified.
It all came down to the fifth final set, and what an epic conclusion it was.
Both served like men possessed. There were net cords, aces, stunning slices, swerving drives—nail-biting tennis from beginning to end.
Federer’s tally of aces climbed to a remarkable 50 against Roddick’s 27. This match of over four and half hours and 77 games produced just 33 unforced errors on one side and 38 on the other.
As each held serve over and again, the result was destined to come down to nerve. And serving at 14 games to 15, Roddick wavered for just a moment and Federer sealed his place in history.
To add to the drama of the occasion, a roll-call of former champions was there to witness it: Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and the man whose Grand Slam record had fallen, Pete Sampras.
They and the whole crowd stood to acclaim a pair of players who had given their all. That one should lose seemed a travesty.
But now, all the records are Federer’s.
He has the most Grand Slam titles: 15.
He has played in the most Grand Slam finals: 20.
He has played in 21 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals.
He is the only man to contest seven Wimbledon finals in a row.
And one other prize that comes from this Grand Slam victory will taste particularly sweet: the No.1 spot in the world rankings.
Had Rafael Nadal not missed both Paris and Wimbledon, the top spot may not have changed hands until the Master’s Cup in November.
As it is, this movie’s closing shot is little short of perfect: a sixth Wimbledon, a 15th Grand Slam and No.1 ranking all rolled into one. Everything from this point on simply burnishes the Federer reputation.
So just how much more can he achieve?
Federer, with his usual openness, made a couple of very telling comments this week. About his place in the record books: “History means more to me today than it used to. It’s nice to talk about records because it gives me an incentive to do well for myself.”
About whether his ambition will remain undimmed after the birth of his child: “It might be completely different when it comes to the US Open…but I’m not really worried about my motivation in any way because I love this game too much.”
On the evidence of the last few months, the Federer game is still developing. His fitness is top-notch. He still loves playing. He still wants the Olympic title. And he’s made a commitment to his wife and imminent child that he will play long enough for them to share his success.
Great news for lovers of tennis. Maybe not such good news for the guys in the locker room.
So, Tina, let’s hear it one more time for Roger, as only you can do it:
“You’re simply the best, better than all the rest, better than anyone…….”