Roger Federer aims for a ninth Wimbledon title from next week with his career at a crossroads and his 40th birthday fast approaching.
Before what could be his final appearance at the All England Club, AFP Sport looks back at some of the Swiss star’s joyous highs and heartbreaking lows since his first visit in 1999.
— Federer, just 19, faced childhood hero and seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras on Centre Court and announced himself as a superpower in the making with a 7-6 (9/7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 7-5 victory.
“There are a lot of young guys coming up, but Roger is a bit extra-special,” said Sampras who had been on a 31-win streak at the tournament.
“It feels unbelievable, of course,” said Federer who was to lose in the quarter-finals to Britain’s Tim Henman.
— Federer came down to earth with a bump 12 months later, losing 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 to Croatian qualifier Mario Ancic, ranked at 154 and dubbed ‘Baby Goran’ after compatriot and defending champion Goran Ivanisevic.
“I didn’t have any tactics, just I was enjoying,” said 18-year-old Ancic, the youngest player to win a match on his Centre Court debut since Bjorn Borg in 1973.
— Federer won his first Grand Slam with a masterclass victory over giant Australian Philippoussis, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 7-6 (7/3).
“I proved it to everybody and it was a big relief because there was pressure from all sides, especially from myself, to do better in Slams,” said 21-year-old Federer who despite his reputation had never previously got past the last-eight of a Slam.
— The 1980 final between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe was widely regarded as the greatest championship match ever played at Wimbledon.
That was until 2008 when Nadal confounded critics who said his clay court supremacy would never translate to grass by beating Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (8/10), 9-7.
It was the Spaniard’s fifth major but first away from the French Open.
He had two championship points in the fourth set and resisted an impressive Federer fightback to triumph in a rain-interrupted final which finished in near-darkness.
“I tried everything, got a little late, but look, Rafa is a deserving champion, he just played fantastic,” admitted Federer.
— Another final and another classic as Federer beat Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 16-14 to win his sixth Wimbledon and surpass Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
The final set alone lasted 95 minutes.
“It was a crazy match with an unbelievable end and my head’s still spinning, but it’s an unbelievable moment in my career,” said Federer.
— Not a classic final, but Federer fought back to beat home hope Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Murray was the first British man in the final since Bunny Austin in 1938 and was hoping to become the first home winner of a Wimbledon men’s title since Fred Perry in 1936.
For Federer, it was a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title, a 17th Grand Slam crown and it allowed him to celebrate a record 286th week as world number one.
“We’re talking about one of the greatest athletes of all time,” said Murray.
— Ukraine’s world number 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky pulled off a shock 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) win, condemning Federer to his worst Grand Slam loss since a first round exit at the 2003 French Open and the defending champion’s earliest Wimbledon defeat since his Ancic horror show eight years earlier.
“You’re playing the guy and then you’re playing his legend,” said Stakhovsky.
“You’re playing two of them. When you’re beating one, you still have the other one who is pressing you.”
Federer was philosophical.
“I wish it wasn’t going to end here. But I don’t think that’s something fans are going to mourn.”
— Federer had two championship points but was unable to break the spirit of Djokovic who triumphed 7-6 (7/5), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 13-12 (7/3) as the longest ever final was settled by an historic tie-break.
The Serb claimed his fifth Wimbledon title, taking his Grand Slam tally to 16 after 4 hours and 57 minutes on a court where most spectators were firmly behind the 37-year-old Swiss.
“When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger’ I hear ‘Novak’,” said the Serb. “It sounds silly, but it is like that.”
Federer said: “Similar to 2008 maybe, I will look back at it and think, ‘well, it’s not that bad after all’.
“For now it hurts, and it should, like every loss does here at Wimbledon.”