Roger Federer is No. 1 again. The once and still king of men's tennis.
Federer, who turns 31 on Aug. 8, will by next week have topped the charts for a record 287 weeks, pulling away from Pete Sampras after wresting the world No. 1 ranking away from Novak Djokovic with a riveting showing at Wimbledon.
Ah yes, Wimbledon. Roger Federer's Camelot.
Rafael Nadal may be the King of Clay, but the Swiss Maestro reigns supreme on grass.
In what Federer himself considered two of the finest matches he has played on the legendary lawns of London's All England Club, the shot-making impresario completely dismantled Djokovic in the semifinals and an equally unsettled Andy Murray to win the championship final.
It was a vaunted display of bravado from Federer, who had not won a major tournament in 2 1/2 years. Eager to end the drought and silence the doubters who pointed to it as evidence that his once-indomitable game was entering decline, he responded at Wimbledon with a finishing kick as defiant as it was dazzling.
"Absolutely," said Federer, winner of a record 17 Grand Slam titles.
"I mean, look, this one has a very unique place in my heart because of many reasons ... but maybe also the bit longer wait has created this as a more fairy-tale tournament for me."
Federer further extended the fairy-tale metaphor by calling it "a magical moment." But the reality is Federer's game remains as fluid and forceful as ever and he reinforced that notion by filleting the top-seeded Djokovic and fourth-ranked Murray when it mattered most.
"I play my best in semis and the final," Federer told the Centre Court crowd.
Indeed, Federer is unbeaten in the semifinals at Wimbledon and a lofty 7-1 in finals -- the lone blemish being in 2008, when Nadal outfoxed him 9-7 in an exhilarating fifth set to end a titanic, near five-hour slugfest.
"[Seven titles] equals me with Pete Sampras, who is my hero," Federer said. "It just feels amazing."
Sampras, who retired in 2003, is widely considered the master of the All England grass. Yet Federer now shares his Open era record of seven Wimbledon singles titles and has surpassed him in several other tournament categories like wins (67) and finals played (8).
He also defeated Sampras in their lone Wimbledon meeting, a tightly contested fourth-rounder in 2001. Federer, then 19, prevailed 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 over the 29-year-old Sampras, who was riding a 31-match winning streak and heavily favoured to win a fifth consecutive title -- a feat accomplished only by Bjorn Borg between 1976 and 1980 until equalled by Federer from 2003 to 2007.
'A front-row seat to greatness'
How ironic then that Federer's latest triumph at tennis' most storied major come under the tutelage of Paul Annacone, the former pro who coached Sampras to his last five Wimbledon crowns.
"Roger and Pete each have their own personalities," Annacone recently told the New York Times. "They each feel different to me."
"But to be able to have a front-row seat to greatness is pretty fun."
Last week's "fun" represented the first foray together into a Wimbledon final for Federer and Annacone, who signed on as coach two years ago and is credited with improving Federer's strategic approach.
"I think Paul helped a great deal with the tactics and the vision for Roger's game," explained Severin Luethi, a long-time Federer ally and captain of Switzerland's Davis Cup squad.
Federer's game is one of assuredness, of spontaneous creativity combined with exquisite execution -- and uniquely adaptable to all styles and surfaces.
Sampras played with a refined splendour, too. But Pistol Pete's game was predicated on a superior first serve that inevitably eroded over time. Not so with Federer. He won last week largely on the strength of a more efficient second serve and more aggressive return of service.
The lesson learned from Wimbledon? Federer has grown so savvy and so versatile that he could, conceivably, improve with age -- on grass, at least.
Perhaps the logjam atop the rankings has as much to do with Federer's refusal to grow old as with rivals Djokovic and Nadal reaching peak form entering their prime. And why the margin separating the Big Three remains so much narrower than the gap between them and Murray, whose progress appears to be staling.
Federer proved as much by ruling over Wimbledon last week in London, where he became the oldest men's champion since Arthur Ashe in 1975 and a prohibitive favourite to win Olympic gold on the same turf in two weeks time.
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