It is amazing that it took an appearance in Roger Federer's 23rd Grand Slam final — earlier this month at the French Open — for some people to put him in the mix of serious contenders at Wimbledon.
Federer, seeking to equal the Wimbledon record of seven men's titles shared by Pete Sampras and 19th-century amateur Willie Renshaw, has enjoyed a successful spring season and is playing some of his best tennis in recent memory.
He is entirely capable of winning again at London's All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
Having been written off in Paris even before the French Open began, Federer stopped world No. 2 Novak Djokovic's 43-match winning streak in the semifinals and, if not for a missed drop shot, might well have beaten top-ranked Rafael Nadal for the title.
Federer will turn 30 on Aug. 8, an age many consider to be on the back side of the hill for tennis players. But he has proven throughout his storybook career that he is no ordinary tennis player. Aside from a bout of monoculous and, at times, a wonky back, Federer has enjoyed a very healthy career.
Like Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Federer, winner of a record 16 Grand Slams, has combined brilliance on the field of play with a dedication to fitness and, more importantly, an understanding of how his body works and doesn't.
Longevity is part of his magic.
Federer has managed his own schedule masterfully, putting in the time during self-imposed breaks on the calendar with longtime training guru Pierre Paganini.
Becoming, indeed remaining, one of the greatest athletes of all time is about more than just winning. For this generation of players, it's about handling the increasing demands of a schedule consisting of matches, practices, training, media availability, sponsor commitments, global travel, rest and, oh yeah, being a husband and a father.
While most of us struggle with work/life balance, Federer is writing the book on the subject.
The soft-spoken Swiss star enters Wimbledon in the longest Grand Slam drought since his glorious run to 16 began on these same hallowed courts in 2003, when he defeated Mark Philippoussis 7-6, 6-2, 7-6 in the championship final. Personally, I find it funny to think six major titles missed constitutes failure, but that's the standard that Federer has set for himself. Yet he seems at peace and has recaptured some of the spark that may have faded during Nadal's recent stretch of success.
It's that combination of self-realization and confidence that makes Federer ready for the challenge ahead.
Tsonga stands in way
Federer, seeded third, has drawn a relatively peaceful quarter with the exception of No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he wouldn't face until the Elite Eight.
Tsonga, you might recall, defeated a fatigued Nadal 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 in the quarter-finals at Queen's Club last week.
Nadal was the only one of the top three players to compete in a grass-court warmup event, but the easier quarter should give Federer enough practice on grass to be ready for the final weekend.
One quirky fact. Since that first championship win over Philippoussis, Federer has captured Wimbledon in each of the odd years (2003,'05,'07,'09) and the way he's playing, there's no reason why he couldn't add 2011 to the list. (He also won in 2004 and 2006).
As the tennis world celebrates the 125th playing of most prestigious event in the sport, it would be fitting to have the "Swiss Maestro" lift the silver gilt cup. Wimbledon is synonymous with tradition, and Federer, a man who has given global prominence to the game like few before him, has shown us that — although Nadal is the reigning champion — Wimbledon, historically, still belongs to him — and could again beyond this fortnight.