On a gloomy Wimbledon evening, two numbers merged into tennis folklore, just like Federer himself — 8 and 19. With his record eighth title at tennis’s most-storied venue, Federer, with 19 Slams, extended his lead as the game’s most successful Grand Slam champion. The eighth was the easiest but the grass hasn’t been this green always. Sweat glands and tear ducts have overflowed in the journey that has made Federer as intrinsic to the tournament as the sharp Royals who come to watch him play. Federer at Wimbledon is everyone’s favourite tennis story.
The story began in 2003, when Federer won his first Grand Slam at the Centre Court. But the eighth was special. Around the same time last year, Federer wasn’t the lord of all he surveyed. The cerebral genius was regularly getting out-thought and out-plotted. Yet in the space of six extraordinary, clock-turning months, Federer won not just that elusive Slam, but two, and the latter without dropping a set.
This long-running saga provides a lesson to all aging sporting stars. To stay relevant, those on the wrong side of 30 need to start by reinventing themselves. At 36, Federer is cleverer in his use of weapons, wiser in preserving his body, and hungrier in the pursuit of trophies. Central to his second wind has been his recalibrated backhand, whipping it up with more raw power than ever before. He has also restored the balance between net and base-line play. The rest — the serve, the strokes, the timing and cunning — have remained much the same. Now the focus shall shift to whether he can win a 20th Grand Slam. Given his imperious touch, he could accomplish it as early as the US Open.