It was really, really disappointing when Federer lost to Berdych in Athens in 2004. Berdych had no business winning. Heck, Federer had no business losing. There wasn’t even any Nadal to interfere. What made the loss more bitter was the fact that unlike some other top pros, Lleyton Hewitt for instance, who chose to skip the Olympics to concentrate on the US Open, Federer actually said that the Olympics are a bigger priority for him than Flushing Meadows. That loss to Berdych would go on to establish distaste in the Swiss for the Czech – a distaste which would become evident many years later in Wimbledon.
Despite being not so visible in the red and white of Switzerland, Federer does display a lot of patriotism. He is very vocal about his nationality and his want and desire to win honours in his country’s colours. He may not play in every Davis Cup tie, but he has always answered a call whenever Switzerland found itself on the brink of elimination. Last year, after the US Open, in which he lost an epic five setter against Novak Djokovic, he packed his bags straightway and flew half way across the world, literally, to play the Davis Cup world-group play-offs tie against Australia in Sydney. He not only fought against exhaustion and jet-lag, but also a switch of surfaces, to play three best of five set matches, including a doubles. Yes, Nadal also did it and Djokovic is all because of the Davis Cup win in 2010, but the point is that Federer does love playing for his nation and takes it very seriously. And the love is mutual. He is Switzerland’s only Grand Slam champion and one of their few sporting heroes. He is on their streets and postal stamps and is as much as a Swiss identity as watches and chocolates. This is why they asked him to carry their flag not once, but thrice. He also has a very deep personal connection to these events. Future Mrs. Federer and a very young Mr. Federer were Olympians in Sydney. And we all know how important she is to him.
So it is a shock and a disappointment that he does not have many decorations or trophies to show for it. Four years ago, after what was at that moment the worst season of his career, and only a few days after that heavy heart-wrenching loss to Nadal in the Wimbledon final and for the first time in 4 ½ years of not being the World No. 1, he was still smiling and enjoying and soaking in the honour of carrying the Swiss flag in Beijing. He also played in the doubles, partnering his over-shadowed countryman Wawrinka. Again he faced disappointment as James Blake ran past him and he couldn’t do anything about it. But in doubles, he and Wawrinka played brilliantly, first taking out Paes and Bhupathi, then upsetting the Bryan brothers and finally defeating the Swedes to claim his only honour for Switzerland. He had become an Olympic gold medallist.
So in 2012, tennis in the Olympics returned to Federer’s happiest hunting ground. Wimbledon has not been very happy for him for the last two years but this year, he did what he has been guilty of not doing on a few other occasions – he dug deep to play the simple solid and dirty game. Far too often he has been accused of attempting outrageous shots when a safer shot was called for. Far too often he has been accused of being too elegant at a cost of the match. In Wimbledon, he switched his ballet shoes for his running ones.
The result was a seventh title at the All England Club. The result was his reclamation of the No. 1 spot. The result was also, as we saw just now, his first singles medal.
When Juan Martin Del Potro dived to place the volley on the baseline, Federer let out a scream. It wasn’t his usual call of ‘Come on’. It was a long, epic scream showing everyone just how badly he wanted this. At 10-10 with the opponent not letting up, it was the kind of scream that assured his most ardent fans that their man was prepared to slug it out. After winning the longest singles match in Olympics history, he sure did.
Go for Gold Roger!
[P.S. – If lightning strikes twice in the same place, then Juan Martin Del Potro will win the US Open this year.]