Friday 23 March 2018

Federer sends out message

Kevin Mitchell, at Wimbledon

Roger Federer says it does not matter to him that he goes into the second week of Wimbledon without having dropped a set. What might concern his opponents more than mere statistics, though, is his belief he does not need to play any better to win his seventh Wimbledon title.

He made his third quietly emphatic statement of the week, to go with six of them in Paris last month, and put David Nalbandian out of his misery and the tournament in three sets.

"I'm very happy if I keep playing this way," he said after winning 6-4 6-2 6-4 in just one hour and 46 minutes on Centre Court, his home for so many years. "It's a matter of keeping it up and then adjusting to what's coming from the opponents. They all play very differently."

It was a win in the classic Federer mould, embroidered with precision and elegance, and it reminded peers, doubters and mischief-makers that there is enough life in his 29-year-old Swiss legs to carry him a little further yet.

The world No 3, caught in a traffic jam behind Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic for several months, affects to not caring about passing Pete Sampras's record of seven Wimbledon titles (half of the American's total haul). Believe that if you like.

Federer's hunger for trophies has not diminished since the day he was crowned boys' champion here 13 years ago, and he took as much satisfaction from this win as he did from any of the other 10 in 19 contests he and Nalbandian have shared.

Only Lleyton Hewitt and Nadal (25 each) and Djokovic (23) have played Federer more often, yet Nalbandian has invariably played above his ranking against him. Not yesterday, and possibly never again. Federer used most of his tools, especially his exquisite baseline power and a nagging first serve, which yielded 14 aces, to win.

The Swiss has played quite beautifully for the past month, and with his understated efficiency for, well, ever. He doesn't do 'slump', although he was wary of Nalbandian.

"I knew that he could beat me a ninth time without any problem," Federer said. "That's also where the pressure is greater against a player like him, because maybe he's not going to win the tournament, but he can knock you out of the tournament."

Nalbandian rarely gives the impression he is trying, although, with every stretch of his battered sinews, he is. He is from a different time in the sport, an artist not an artisan.

"Game, Federer," became the painful mantra for Nalbandian, his leg heavily strapped from early in the second set to hold together the strained groin that cut him down in Davis Cup competition in March.

Federer has not missed a Slam in 12 years. Nalbandian, at various stages, has missed all of them. But if Federer reckoned his opponent here lacked resilience, he was brought up short when the Argentinian thrashed a lovely cross-court forehand at him to break back at 3-3 in the first set.

It was his one hiccup. Federer broke and held, then eased away. When Nalbandian pushed a simple volley long to drop serve at the start of the second set, doom beckoned.

In the company of gods, it doesn't do to have a groin go ping, which is what happened to poor Nalbandian a set and 3-2 down. The physio wrapped up his leg, and he carried on. It is fruitless to attach specific blame to the mishap, but Nalbandian, not known as a gym rat, might have been paying for prior sins.

Someone with more chutzpah than sense asked Nadal this week: "Do you feel like a man in decline?"

The evidence, apparently, was that he had lost in four finals this year to Djokovic, ignoring the fact that not only had nobody else in tennis put themselves in position to do that but the Serb was in the form of his life -- or many other people's lives, for that matter -- and had lost only to Federer in 43 matches over the previous six months. It was a query hardly worth a reply but the Spaniard supplied one anyway: "Maybe. But I won Roland Garros two weeks ago."

By beating Federer, he might have added -- for the seventh time in nine Grand Slam finals.

When the question about his future was put to Federer last night, in nowhere near as blunt terms, the dark eyebrows twitched.

"I don't go through days thinking, my God, I haven't won a Grand Slam in so long. It hasn't been that long. You don't cry over stuff like that.

"You guys bring it up and I answer the question; that's it. But I don't really get pulled down by it. Actually I think I get motivation by it."

And that's bad news for Mikhail Youzhny, who he meets next.


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