Federer wins at Wimbledon

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

WIMBLEDON, England When Wimbledon finally was won, the burden of expectations lifted, Roger Federer dropped to his knees, arms aloft. Then he rose and, walking off the court, put his hands to his face.

He sat in his courtside chair and began to sob.

These were tears of joy, certainly, but also tears of relief.

''There was pressure from all sides also from myself. I wanted to do better in Slams,'' Federer said. ''I've always believed, but then in the end, when it happens, you don't think that it is possible. It's an absolute dream for me. I was always joking around when I was a boy: 'I'm going to win this.'''

That forecast was met and tremendous potential fulfilled with an all-around brilliant performance in the Wimbledon final Sunday against Mark Philippoussis, a 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (3) victory that gave Federer his first major title.

Federer was quite collected throughout the match, ripping returns on serves that made line judges, ball boys and spectators flinch. He laced passing shots by the 6-foot-4 Philippoussis, spun aces off lines and crafted crisp volleys.

It was all done with such aplomb that one might have guessed Federer didn't care about the outcome. But when it was over, Federer let go.

''He's a very emotional person, and that's nice for people to see,'' said coach Peter Lundgren, who also shed tears during the trophy ceremony. ''These guys are human.''

Still only 21, yet already for years considered a ''can't miss'' future champion, Federer felt pushed to perform. His 1998 Wimbledon junior title inspired some to sing praise, and those notes grew into a full-blown chorus after he ended seven-time champion Pete Sampras' 31-match winning streak at the All England Club in 2001.

But until this fabulous fortnight, the fourth-seeded Federer never had made it past the quarterfinals at a major. Since the upset of Sampras, Federer lost three first-round matches at majors including at Wimbledon last year and the French Open in May.

With the winner's Challenge Cup cradled in his hands, Federer's voice cracked and he cried some more.

''You see the trophy, and it's so beautiful. Gold. You don't have golden trophies very often,'' he said later. ''Just the way when you look at it, and when you hold it it is something you've always dreamed of. So right then, you feel like: 'Am I dreaming? This is true right now?'''

Indeed it is. Federer is the first Swiss man to win a major title and the seventh male champion at the past seven Slams, one short of the Open era record. Contrast that with the women's game: Serena Williams claimed five of the last six majors, beating sister Venus in each final, including Saturday at Wimbledon.

The all-Williams final lasted longer than the 1-hour, 56-minute masterpiece painted by Federer, who has the air of an artist with his ponytail and white bandanna.

Smoothly covering the court, Federer dominated every facet against Philippoussis, who was trying to become just the third unseeded men's champion at Wimbledon since seeding was introduced in 1927.

Now Federer will rise to a career-high ranking of No. 3, and he leads the tour with 50 match wins and five titles. It's hard to decide what was most impressive Sunday:

He outaced Philippoussis 21-14 the Australian entered averaging 27 for the tournament, including a record-tying 46 to beat Andre Agassi;

He double-faulted just twice and never faced a break point;

He finished with a 50-37 edge in total winners;

He made only nine unforced errors despite some risky shotmaking, including a backhand volley whipped from the baseline that caught Philippoussis off-guard.

''He can do everything,'' said Philippoussis, now 0-2 in major finals, including the 1998 U.S. Open. ''He came up with some great passing shots. Running forehands. Backhand returns. What can you do?''

Federer showcased his versatility in the first-set tiebreaker, while Philippoussis showed a hint of nerves.

At 2-2 came the match's only one extended rally, and Federer ended the 15-stroke exchange with a runaround forehand winner. At 4-4, Federer serve-and-volleyed on a second serve, winning the point when Philippoussis' forehand pass try went wide.

Philippoussis then hit one of his seven double-faults, giving Federer a 6-4 edge. He converted two points later, when Philippoussis stood far behind the baseline on a second serve and swatted a forehand return that floated 8 feet wide.

''That first tiebreaker was huge, to get the momentum going,'' Philippoussis acknowledged. ''I just pressed a little, and I guess I pressed too much.''

Federer opened the second set by racing to a 4-0 lead. In the first game, Federer hit three passing shots, each of which appeared to be controlled with a joystick, veering around Philippoussis and curling inside a line.

Federer ran away with the final tiebreaker, including taking one 130 mph serve by Philippoussis and turning it into a forehand return that kissed the baseline.

''To win Wimbledon as a first Grand Slam now I hope it's not going to be my last,'' Federer said, smiling.

In Centre Court's last match until 2004, Martina Navratilova tied Billie Jean King's record of 20 Wimbledon titles, teaming with Leander Paes for the mixed doubles championship. They beat Andy Ram and Anastassia Rodionova 6-3, 6-3.

At 46, Navratilova is the oldest player to win a Wimbledon title.

''I can't think, I can't talk,'' she said. ''I feel like Roger Federer a few hours ago.''

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