TEN years ago, when he won for the first time, few had heard of him. A decade on he’s considered the greatest player of all time, and yet when Roger Federer walks onto centre court at Wimbledon today, once more as defending champion, there will be even fewer who still consider him a live contender in this or any other grand slam of the future.
His tennis obituaries have been prepared and honed over the past 18 months. They had to be temporarily returned to the pending tray when he beat Andy Murray for the title last year, but attend any Federer press conference these days and he will say in wry, world-weary fashion at some point “haven’t you guys got anything original to ask?” when the inevitable question about retirement and fading glories is raised. He’ll respond, in as many languages as he chooses, that in tennis these days being 31 is the new 26, the fire is still burning, the twins are not denying him a good night’s sleep, and we write him off at our peril.
A LION AMONG WANNABEES
And crucially this tournament is not Roland Garros, where the 17-times grand slam champion was thumped unceremoniously by Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. In the long grass of Wimbledon, Federer has been king seven times; the lion among wannabees in the way that Nadal is in Paris. And Rafa’s eighth French Open title two weeks ago will be an added incentive for the Swiss, who, with a measure of vanity alongside considerable pride, would like to regain his share of the all-time record for wins at a single slam.
That is Federer: a student of the sport craving as many mentions as possible in the annals of the game, before anno domini finally catches up with him.
Two weeks today, logic and form says that we’ll open our papers to read about Novak Djokovic beating Andy Murray in the final. Having avoided the big three in his half of the draw, the Serb almost has a bye into the final. But Murray will be watching events around him with a keen eye. Federer will coast into the second week, and will then fancy one more (last?) hurrah against Rafa in the quarters. And then he’d face Andy, remembering the last time they met on centre court he was humiliated in the Olympic final. Beware the impact of dented pride on a wounded lion. And then, who knows?
The bookmakers have written Federer off; some are quoting 10-1 for a man who has won this tournament seven times. But he could yet have one last laugh on us all before it finally is Roger and out.
ORDER OF PLAY
Centre Court (1pm start)
■ Victor Hanescu v Roger Federer
■ Kristina Mladenovic v Maria Sharapova
■ Benjamin Becker v Andy Murray (GB)
Court One (1pm start)
■ Maria Joao Koehler v Victoria Azarenka
■ Rafael Nadal v Steve Darcis
■ Lleyton Hewitt v Stanislas Wawrinka
Court Two (11.30am start)
■ Virginie Razzano v Ana Ivanovic
■ Marcos Baghdatis v Marin Cilic
■ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v David Goffin
■ Petra Kvitova v Coco Vandeweghe
Court Three (11.30am start)
■ Elena Baltacha (GB) v Flavia Pennetta
■ Kyle Edmund (GB) v Jerzy Janowicz
■ Janko Tipsarevic v Viktor Troicki
■ Estrella Cabeza Candela v Caroline Wozniacki
Andy Murray begins his Wimbledon campaign today against Benjamin Becker. Here is what you need to know about the German
He’s not related to Boris
■ The 32-year-old is no relation to his namesake and three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker
On the court
■ He’s never been past the second round at Wimbledon, though reached round four at the US Open in 2006
Off the court
■ Majored in finance and international business at Baylor University in Texas and is one semester short of finishing his degree