Roger Federer, to the delight of his fans and despair of his rivals, installed himself as an undeniably strong candidate to win Wimbledon for the eighth time when he blitzed the 20-year-old Alexander Zverev in 53 minutes of the Halle final on 25 June 2017.
With Andy Murray hidden away repairing a game that remains worryingly short of the pleasing consistency he needs to keep his title, the three-times champion Novak Djokovic heading for Eastbourne to do a similar job on his own, even more fragile tennis and Rafael Nadal – who has lost to players outside the top 100 on his last four visits to the All England Club – biding his time at home in Majorca, the ageless Federer has emerged to revive memories of past glories.
He was his old irresistible self, winning in Halle for the ninth time, mesmerising Zverev 6-1, 6-3 to the point of near-resignation. The German wunderkind, already 10th in the world, who announced his arrival when he beat Federer in the semi-final as a teenager a year ago, had no answers to the 2015 champion’s familiar sharpness at the net, and power and precision at the baseline. The player who destroyed Djokovic on the clay of Rome a month ago disintegrated on grass but remains probably the most dangerous young outsider at Wimbledon.
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Federer, however, is the man of the day, the man of the year, in fact: a slam tournament champion for the 18th time after prevailing in Melbourne when nobody – including himself – gave him much chance of getting past the quarter-finals. He has won three titles since. If he can hold his body and spirit together for a fortnight at Wimbledon, the universal praise will resemble the anointing of a saint.
He said courtside: “It’s great to get off to a good start in the finals and then remind yourself that you’ve been playing good tennis all week. You start swinging freely, things start clicking, you realise your opponent is under pressure and you keep pressuring him. I’m, like, on cloud nine right now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get a chance to win this again, so it’s important to enjoy this one.”
That last sentiment should be politely dismissed. Nadal completed an extraordinary third La Décima of the clay swing at Roland Garros, having wrapped up his 10th titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona, so Federer will be desperate to join him at that rarefied level in Halle. And who knows? Maybe if he won an eighth Wimbledon he would push on for a hitherto unimaginable 10th championship there, too.