7, 17, & 286: Federer Wins Wimbledon 2012

18:36 Sun 08 Jul 2012
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Nadal stumbled early, Djokovic managed a set, Murray did the same, and today, atop the men’s game once more, is Roger Federer.

By beating Andy Murray 4–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–4 today, Federer tied the record for most men’s singles Wimbledon titles (sharing it with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw)[1], extended his record number of total men’s singles Grand Slam titles to 17, and reclaimed the number one ranking for a record-tying 286th week.[2] Those are phenomenal numbers, and none of them looked likely to become fact during the first set.

Federer was tight in his opening service game, losing it after missing easy putaways. Murray looked confident and strong, and was bullying Federer with the force of his groundstrokes in the first set. Federer somehow broke back in the fourth game to level it at 2–2, but it seemed that he was the one under more pressure from Murray, until the eighth game, where Federer had multiple break points and the game went to deuce numerous times, but Federer couldn’t get past Murray. Federer then seemed to slump after that failed effort, as after winning the first point on his serve at 4–4, he:

  • Makes a terrible backhand error.
  • Tries an awful drop shot to effectively hand Murray the point.
  • Hits a reasonable forehand long.
  • Makes another forehand error to drop the game.

Murray served it out to take the first set, and it definitely looked as if Federer was in trouble. Murray seemed like the stronger and more aggressive player, while also making fewer errors and serving very well.

Early in the second set, Murray threatened again, and had two break points at 2–2. Federer played risky tennis on those points, and had to overcome excellent defense to barely hold—the points he won in the game included a reflex volley, and two points where he had to smash the ball three times, with one of those times hitting the tape but going over.

Federer doesn’t get enough credit for his grit. In the second set, he displayed a lot of it, scraping through service holds during a run of play when Murray simply seemed better, particularly in baseline rallies. That grit allowed him to stay in the set with Murray until Murray was serving at 5–6, 30–30.

Then Federer, at the match’s most crucial stage since the 4–3 game in the first set, asserted himself as The Great Roger Federer, and with two amazing rallies broke Murray to steal the second set.

At the start of the third, Murray still looked solid, and apparently managed to keep the disappointment of the loss of the second at bay, and the match was finely balanced when the rain and the roof came.

When they resumed play under the roof, the difference was immediate. Federer, the world’s best indoor tennis player (possibly ever), was clearly more comfortable, and on one of the first points after the break hit an unreal shot, an inside-out half-volley drop shot winner from the baseline. Murray did well to hang on against the storm for the next few games, but with Murray serving at 2–3, the third pivotal moment of the match arrived: a 10-deuce game in which Murray fought and clawed but just could not deal with the offensive firepower and finesse from Federer.

Once Federer had the break, the set was done, and his high level continued, although Murray still didn’t go away entirely. But he did produce some mistakes at 2–2, and two over them were enough to lost his service. Murray kept fighting, but after that break it felt like a foregone conclusion.

Murray won some great points, but the truly spectacular stuff came from Federer. That’s not a surprise, but his variety in this match seemed greater than normal.

For the first time since 2005, three different men (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer) have won the first three Slams of the year. The Olympics and the US Open should be interesting, but for now, I’m just appreciating Federer’s fantastic accomplishment.

[1] Federer has contested one more Wimbledon final (8) than either of them.

[2] He shares that record with Sampras, and it seems highly likely that he will break Sampras’ record next week, as I think none of the top players are active.

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