Wimbledon 2021 – Roger Federer and Center Court still the perfect match

LONDON – Roger Federerthird round match against Cameron Norrie on center court had a familiar feel.

Fans stood dressed in Federer’s badges, some of whom held a sign reading: “Federer is eternal”. It was as if these fans were on a pilgrimage, following the 20-time Grand Slam champion with adulation reflected everywhere Federer goes at the All England Club. His post-match comments on the pitch are greeted only with appreciation and laughter, to the point that he could be critical of the England football team this week and even the most avid fan of it. would turn away: “Yeah, but it’s Roger.”

In men’s tennis, few, if any, players have been loved on center court as deeply and adoringly as Roger Federer.

And although the 39-year-old is in the twilight of his career, any game here for the 20-time Grand Slam champion is still a top destination for sports fans who know they will witness a spellbinding experience and moving.

Wimbledon Center Court is a place where, regardless of what’s going on in the world, the expectations and the experience stay the same. It’s a patch of grass where beloved protagonists are cheered on (new) rooftops and welcomed into post-tennis life like old friends. It’s a tennis haven from the everyday obstacles of normal life, including a global pandemic.

Combine it with Federer, dance along the baseline, and find a precise blade of grass with its quick backhand, and it’s a Lilliputian experience.

“Federer is loved, because of the style he plays and people feel like he’s theirs,” ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said. “He has this stylistic side, and honestly to God, I think Americans think that because he’s like Sampras, he’s from Southern California and he’s not really from Switzerland,” Gilbert said. “The Australians think he’s Australian, the French think he’s French… for some reason he transcends where he’s from, you know, and he’s just this global icon.”

Federer’s resilience doesn’t come at the expense of grace and kindness off the pitch. The racquet-breaking teenager learned to channel his frustration on the court and, with it, appeared in tennis consciousness. Federer himself is struggling to determine exactly when he started to feel love on center court. Maybe it was around 2002, after beating Pete Sampras in the final the year before. Even now, he doesn’t count on support.

“I never really go away and I expect everyone to be for me, to be honest,” he said on Thursday. “When you see another guy hitting some great shots, I hope they applaud the guy. You want the atmosphere to be there. If it’s kind of one-sided, it’s not that either. that he’s supposed to be. I think you applaud tennis for the good shots, the good games. Maybe with me they know me a little better, they’ve heard of me. But everyone in particular does not have to be for me.

But watch it ship to France Richard Gasquet on center court Thursday, only the random cry of “Go Richard” crossed Federer’s love-in.

“More than anything is the way he moves like a ballet on the tennis court,” said Cliff Drysdale, who also calls matches for ESPN. “He’s very open in interviews and his public figure, and to see him on the tennis court is to look at the best player in the history of the game and combined with his shooting skills.”

With Federer, you know that you are going to undergo an aesthetic tennis demonstration. You’ve seen it before, but it’s just as exciting – like watching the Rolling Stones on one of their biannual farewell tours as they perform their entire repertoire with energetic finesse.

“If anyone can go to Wimbledon once, it’s to go see the Fed play,” Gilbert said. “It’s like seeing this famous conductor, like seeing someone who is like a living legend.”

Before Federer sent Britain’s Norrie in four sets to center court on Saturday, Gilbert suggested the home prospect would be “lucky to have 15% of the crowd”. That was certainly the case at the start of the game, but the crowd at Center Court also love an underdog, especially when he’s one of them. The crowd admired Norrie’s tenacity and effort, even cheering the Briton on the open roof and back after handing a towel to a spectator he had hit with a previously finicky serve.

As Norrie took Federer off and hinted at a monumental upset, you could determine who had won points when you stood outside center court while waiting to return during a break in play: A heart-wrenching cheer meant Federer , another with a little lower decibels for Norrie. But Federer closed the game to advance to the round of 16, with fans living his every word when he spoke after the win.

Fans appreciate the emotional players here, which is part of Andy Murray’s incredible appeal. Only Murray could have burst Federer’s devotional bubble on center court, but that’s a different kind of love. Murray has a touch of Everyman in him: he mumbles to himself like a regular at your local pub. He fights in adversity. He also suffers like Great Britain, mentally and physically. He doesn’t hold back the emotion. He cries, as does Federer. Before this tournament, Murray said he wanted to enjoy the experience more, having previously been in his ultra-competitive view of the tunnel. He spoke ahead of the tournament about how much he enjoyed training with Federer.

“When I take a step back from that, as a tennis fan, playing with Roger Federer two days before Wimbledon is really great,” Murray said ahead of the tournament. “I haven’t had the chance to do this stuff in the past few years. I enjoyed it.”

And that reverberates through the fans: watching great athletes, not knowing when the opportunity will be lost. These moments were only exacerbated by the restrictions the world has faced due to the ongoing pandemic.

All of this contributes to the collective Wimbledon experience, where the smells and sights are familiar comforting: overpriced strawberries and cream; chatter creeping between points; the embarrassed and stifled laughter when a cork of champagne flies into the sky of SW19; and the applause when a referee reminds people to turn off their cell phones.

The next batch has yet to achieve the same adulation. Thursday, Alexander Zverev was doing his press homework on the broadcast balcony that runs along the southwest corner of Center Court. A few fans stood below hoping to get his attention. Later that day, Federer stood in the same spot, as a hundred fans beneath him demanded a preview.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be like Federer for these guys,” Drysdale said. “It’s hard for me to imagine anyone enjoying more popularity than Federer in history. The closest I’ve seen was Bjorn Borg. Tennis has a way of spawning champions. iconic because once you start winning in this sport, winning breeds victory, breeds confidence. “

So just like Borg and the other greats who had their time in the sun (and the rain), the Federer Dynasty will eventually come to an end, but there will be few who will be worshiped on 99-year-old center court as well.

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