Roger Federer has made history. By taking the US Open men’s title after his 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 win over No. 6 Andy Murray, Federer became the first man to win five successive titles at two different Grand Slam events (the Open and Wimbledon).Monday, Federer won a record fifth straight U.S. Open by beating a now grown-up, but clearly not quite ready Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.
“I think I really chose the right tactics against Andy, who himself is a great tactician. I think I did a good job doing that. I really felt toward the end of the tournament, like last year, that I was playing my best as the opponents got more difficult,” Federer said. “I played great. I felt like I was sort of invincible for awhile. And that’s exactly the way you want to end a tournament.”
After match point, Federer dropped to the court, rolled, and lay there for just a moment. His face was hard to read.
Was it joy? Relief? Perhaps it was a mixture of both. The tears Federer has known to shed in these big moments were perilously close to the surface.
“I didn’t feel like I was under pressure to try to win here,” he said. “This is huge, this is massive, really, and I’m very, very happy about this Grand Slam. It’s a different type of flavour, this one, to me, no doubt. I can definitely go into the rest of the season more relaxed.”
It was on the very same day in 2002 that 31-year-old Pete Sampras won his 14th and final Grand Slam title, defeating Andre Agassi in four sets.
Federer has one more to go to tie him. This is the 13th major for the 27-year-old from Switzerland, his first in a tumultuous season that began with a bout with mononucleosis in Australia, continued through a mugging at the hands of Spain’s Rafael Nadal in the French Open final, and reached its nadir during a heartbreaking five-set loss to Nadal in that epic Wimbledon final – on Federer’s court, the court, he thought, that was his for as long as he wanted it.
The loss of the No. 1 ranking to Nadal, the top spot Federer had held for more than four years, was just piling on.
The whispers began. Was Federer on the downslope of his career? Would he ever win another Slam? Was Sampras’s record suddenly safe? He started getting phone calls and notes from every Tom, Dick and Harry giving him advice. His parent’s telephone started ringing off the hook.
They were questions, created by the impossible standard of excellence Federer set for himself and the rest of the men’s field – a field that has made progress in closing the gap.
“I lost quite a few matches that I shouldn’t have lost, and they hurt,” Federer said. “Losing my No. 1 ranking, that really meant a lot to me. To bounce back straightaway, after losing the No. 1 ranking, is the best scenario ever.”
He urged himself on during this tournament, showing more emotion than he has for a long time – since the early days, when he was Murray’s age, when his emotions held him back rather than propelled him forward.
Federer’s summer on the hard courts had hardly presaged this, even though he still had to be considered a favourite given rival Nadal’s lack of success here.
He admitted Monday he was still having trouble with his movement in Toronto and Cincinnati, and no longer discounts there may have been lingering effects from the mono.
He had not won a hard-court tournament all season. And he looked uncertain at the start.
But suddenly, against a clearly emotionally-spent Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the semifinals, it all clicked. He saw an opponent nowhere near ready to take the fight to the limit, and the lion in Federer, the closer, came out.
He made mincemeat of Djokovic. And then, a great break, there was no Nadal to deal with in the final.
Nadal on a hard court is nowhere near as fearsome as Nadal on a clay or grass court. But his mere presence across the net brings out all the self-doubt, all the uncertainty, all those bad memories of previous Grand Slam finals in Federer.
Murray, in his first major final, posed less of a challenge – even if he had beaten Federer in their last two meetings. Murray also had to play three days in a row, through the two-part semifinal against Nadal Saturday and Sunday, and in then in a rare Monday championship.
As he pointed out after his semifinal win, Federer knows how to do this. For the Scot, it was uncharted territory.
“I’m disappointed right now. I wish I could have done a few things better, and given myself a few more opportunities. But I’m sure after a few days, whenever it sort of sinks in – it’s obviously been a very good couple of weeks,” Murray said.
Never in tennis history has any player won two separate Grand Slams five straight times, as Federer has now done, both at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.
He earned $1.5 million US and a new Lexus for his trouble, and an extra $1 million bonus as the winner of the U.S. Open Series that precedes this Grand Slam.
He leaves New York refocused, redeemed, relieved, and eager.
“I came in here thinking positive. That’s what I’ve been doing all year long, even though it’s been hard, after Wimbledon, after Paris,” he said. “Sitting on this (U.S. Open trophy) for four months, it’s unbelievable.”