Federer still the master of cool
Published 01/07/2015 | 02:30
On such a broiling day, it was refreshing that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, twin totems of these sun-scorched Wimbledon lawns, stayed so impeccably true to type.
While the Spaniard flashed his racket like a cutlass, overpowering Thomaz Bellucci with a multitude of dramatically lassoed forehands, the stately Federer swatted away Bosnia's Damir Dzumhur, a walking human sacrifice, with all the fuss of George Clooney sipping on an afternoon espresso.
The distinctions between them, as vivid now as during their epochal 2008 final here, were best gauged by the clock: where Nadal scratched and scuffled around for the best part of 21/4 hours en route to a straight-sets win, Federer, unusually incongruous in his collarless shirt, was safely back in the hutch within 68 minutes.
Nadal, as he always does, shook off the sweat under the bandanna in the manner of a Labrador drying itself, just to emphasise the piratical ferocity that he pours into every contest. Federer, by contrast, bore not the slightest scar of battle besides a gently glistening brow.
Only 300 yards separated Nadal's sweaty travails on No 1 Court from the imperious procession of the seven-time champion on Centre, but the stylistic disparities could be measured in light years.
It was the classic juxtaposition of toil versus tranquillity. Nadal, scurrying around as if his career depended on it, had a reputation to protect, given his rare predicament of not holding any of the four major titles and the fact that he had not advanced beyond the last 16 of Wimbledon since 2011.
Federer, however, was content to bathe in the kind of unconditional reverence that perhaps only Frank Sinatra enjoyed in his professional dotage, filling out another arena with patrons who had braved a combination of heatstroke and open-wallet surgery just to celebrate his gifts.
So perfunctory was Federer's workout in a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 thrashing of Dzumhur that he was at liberty afterwards to indulge in a few intriguing reflections about how his experience at the tournament has evolved.
These days, Federer is the sacred cow of SW19, travelling with an army of helpers that would embarrass some heads of state, but he has not forgotten the distant days when he would have to make do with a cramped single bedroom in Wimbledon Village. Roger the Lodger? It was an arresting image.
"Yeah, I've been doing this for 14 years now, and I used to stay in a bed and breakfast," he said. "I would stay with a family, just in one room. I had a flat, then a house.
"As the entourage grew and the family grew, we needed bigger places. But the bigger it is, the more problems you have, because you need to clean more and you get organised in a different way. But being in the village, at least we don't have to beat traffic every day."
Heaven forbid. As Wimbledon's crown prince in perpetuity, Federer has his every whim catered for without demurral.
Nadal, as the only member of the 'big four' in the men's game yet to marry, prefers to pursue a quieter routine during the Wimbledon fortnight, playing computer games at the house he shares with close friend Juan Monaco.
But his Swiss nemesis, fast adjusting to the demands of having four children under the age of five, is beginning to speak like a man contemplating a future beyond the tennis treadmill.
"I'd like to drive the kids to school," Federer said, wistfully.
"I'd like to spend time with them, with my wife, living in Switzerland. Then there are many other things that I'll be doing with my foundation.
"Business, we'll see. Tennis, we'll see. But those first two things I know for sure."
For now, it is an eighth Wimbledon title, and with it the promise of vaulting beyond Pete Sampras and William Renshaw as the champion without peer, which sustains him.
Nadal, likewise, seems especially determined not to let his stash of golden Challenge Cups remain stuck at two. He has watched his world ranking slip to 10, and seen his sequence of nine French Open triumphs in 10 years sabotaged by Novak Djokovic, but he hinted by his satisfaction at the 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory against Bellucci that he discovered another gear.
"It is day by day for me," he said. "But I am a little more confident now than I was a few months ago."
The Federer-Nadal duopoly has been Wimbledon's defining dynamic for so long that it is difficult to see how the men's draw can possibly galvanise the same levels of interest without them.
That day is coming, with Federer approaching his 34th birthday and Nadal surviving on brittle knees, sooner than we might care to acknowledge.
At least Federer, lapsing uncharacteristically into elder statesman mode, was optimistic that life would go on.
"It's going to be a bit of a change," he admitted. "Everything has to be somewhat rebuilt to some extent. It depends when Rafa goes out, when I go out. That might still be five or six years away. Who knows what it's going to be like?
"By then, the young generation that we all talk about now are going to be in their prime. I'm not that worried. There's always going to be another story."
And yet the story of Wimbledon 2015 so far, of Federer the glorious aesthete and Nadal the inspired artisan, is somehow as reassuringly familiar as ever. (© Daily Telegraph, London)