The rise and rise of Federer

Print edition : July 29, 2005

Roger Federer hits a forehand in his semi-final match against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt. - DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS

With Wimbledon 2005, the Swiss star proves he is the most complete player of all time.

Roger Federer's third consecutive Wimbledon title unleashed a wave of gilded accolades, the likes of which I have never seen before. In a show of unanimity, past champions and media pandits have acclaimed him as the most complete player of all time. Now, he has just one more point to prove. Can he stay the course and win seven Wimbledon titles like Pete Sampras did. For Federer this is the most difficult hurdle to cross. The 7-1 odds against him offered by the bookies is far from generous.

Boris Becker, after the way Federer literally massacred the opposition losing only one set in the Championships, said: "Federer is now playing against history." He does not see any threat to Federer in the tennis world. Federer's bulging quiver of shots with the full range of spins have made him a master of the ball. His movement on the court has a smooth balletic grace with controlled power. In the finals, Federer was in the `Zone' of what seemed to be a sort of "spiritual attunement".

A baffled Andy Roddick "huffed and puffed" but to no avail. A calm and serene Federer handled Roddick's power of serve and shot with frustrating aplomb. Fidgeting and moving like a video on fast forward, Roddick could perhaps do better by more variation and accurate placement as also depth of shot rather than brute force.

Earlier, in the semifinals, Lleyton Hewitt who had only one break point on Federer's service in the entire match was another victim bewildered by his genius. In the third set, Hewitt threw everything he had into a desperate net attack, but to no avail. He was trapped like a blue bottle fly in the window pane of Federer's talent. It was sad to see Hewitt's great fighting spirit, buttressed by shouts of `come on', crushed by Federer.

Federer's behaviour is a lesson to the sporting world. There are no screams or battle cries with killer punches in the air or murderous looks; only, at times, a mild shout of self-reproach when he misses a shot. He has the majestic calm and dignity of a true monarch. His warm, amiable disposition has endeared him to the tennis world.

Venus Williams, 25, and Wimbledon Champion of 2000 and 2001, was written off and placed at a lowly 14 in the seedings. She stumbled back in time and found her lost world. Injury-free with no rattling beads in her hair and unadorned by earrings and necklaces, she regained her lost focus. Her semifinal against Maria Sharapova and the final against Lindsay Davenport lit up the world of women's tennis and the Wimbledon fortnight.

Venus' match against Sharapova, the glamorous reigning champion, was a real gem. Six feet and over in height, both Venus and Sharapova have formula I chassis with steel muscles under their sleek bonnets. Their imposing physical presence and strength produced a high-velocity, high-decibel clash of searing intensity. The speed and length of the baseline rallies and court coverage were unbelievable and awe-inspiring. Sharapova fought to the bitter end, but Venus was stronger and more experienced. We can look forward to some great matches between them in the future.

The 2-hour-45-minute final between Venus and Davenport was the longest in the history of Wimbledon and full of drama. In a stirring match of high quality, Venus came back from matchpoint at 4-5 in the final set eventually to win the title 9-7. Venus saved the matchpoint like a true champion with a scorching down-the-line backhand winner.

After three depressing years in the wilderness, Venus had once again found the confidence and faith of a champion. In top form with her flexibility, mobility, variety of shot and strength, she could put the clock back and rule the world of women's tennis. I found her estatic and continuous jumping with joy like a clockwork toy even through the presentation ceremony unbecoming of a champion.

Venus williams celebrates after defeating Lindsay Davenport in the women's final.-ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

Serena Williams, seeded fourth, was nowhere near her best. With niggling injuries, she struggled through the first and second rounds before crashing out to 83rd ranked unknown Jill Craybas of the United States in straight sets. But one still cannot write off the Williams sisters. Despite their eccentric activities in dress designing, interior decorating, acting and so on, they have won two of the three Grand Slams this year. I will not be surprised if they come back on track and once again establish a dominant position in women's tennis.

Sania Mirza launched in orbit by unprecedented media hype in India with a heavy payload of high expectations made a debut on the Centre Court. After a creditable first-round victory over higher ranked (64) Akiko Morigami of Japan, Sania came up against 5th-seeded reigning U.S. Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. Shorter in stature, almost 30 pounds lighter and ranked 70 places lower, Sania had the chunky powerful Russian reeling on the ropes. With perfect timing, Sania, walloped clean winners with her forhand at 74 mph completely unnerving the Russian. Serving for the match at 5/4 in the final set, a wobbly Kuznetsova looked vulnerable but plucked up courage, attacked the net and put away two low backhand volleys to win the match.

Sania's forehand can become a match winner at higher levels of the game if she can improve her serve and extract a weak return from her opponent to put away. Whatever her weakness, Sania has something special and an ability to perform on the big stage. Her success will certainly spur young Indian girls in all sports to greater effort. With the stud on her nose and her short skirt she has linked our great culture to modern times. Indian women may look frail and delicate but have a great inner strength. Sania did India proud.

With the return of Henin Hardenne and Kim Clysters, the possible comeback of the Williams sisters and the presence of the Russian brigade led by Sharapova, women's tennis with escalating rivalries could well become more exciting than the men's events.

Among the men, the muscular 18-year-old Spaniard Rafael Nadal has much scope for improvement and could well challenge Federer's supremacy in the future. His spectacular victory in the French Open sets him apart from the other youngsters. Nadal's commitment and intensity are frightening. Unlike the other top-notchers he has no fear of playing against Federer. Three other promising 18-year-olds who could make a mark are Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils, both from France, and Britain's Andrew Murray. With "Tiger Tim" (Henman) falling in the second round, Murray has been projected as the next British hope for the Wimbledon crown. Murray is from Scotland. The shouts, of "Come on Tim" on Henman Hill may well be replaced by the militant sound of Bagpipes in the future. Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes continue to plough their lonely furrows through the Championships. The two of them have earned much respect and have kept the Indian flag flying in the Grand Slams and the tennis world. This year, it was Bhupathi who paired with the statuesque Mary Pierce won the mixed doubles title in straight sets. It was a very creditable performance and one hopes that they will continue their partnership and pick up more Grand Slam titles. Mahesh at 31, active in tennis promotional activities, is a great doubles player but can still pick up Grand Slam titles for two or three years to come.

Since the mixed doubles is traditionally the last match of the Championships, Bhupathi and Pierce rung down the curtain on Wimbledon 2005. In 2003, it was Paes and Martina Navratilova.

The fairy tale of the Championships was the victory of Stephen Huss and Wesley Moodie in the men's doubles. On the verge of giving up owing to poor results, they managed to qualify for the men's doubles and to everyone's surprise went on to win the Championships. Venus Williams was right when she said: "You never know what life is going to throw at you."

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