Roger Federer’s self belief didn’t waver, even when the titles started to go to younger players.
The record men’s Grand Slam champion yesterday overcame local favorite Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win his seventh Wimbledon title and regain the top ranking in tennis one month shy of his 31st birthday. It was Federer’s 17th major championship, and the first since his victory at the 2010 Australian Open reduced Murray, 25, to tears.
“With age, with victories, things get a bit easier,” Federer said today after joining Pete Sampras and William Renshaw with a record seven titles at the All England Club in London. “All your achievements, no one can take those away, so you can play with less pressure. You want pressure and fire for the rest of your life, but right now I can take much more enjoyment out of the traveling, the tour.”
Federer, who today ties Sampras’s record of 286 weeks at No. 1, is the oldest man to win a major since Andre Agassi took the 2003 Australian Open title at age 32. Only two men have won Wimbledon at age 30 or older: Rod Laver, who watched yesterday from the royal box, in 1969, and Arthur Ashe in 1975.
“Already, people are saying he is the greatest player ever, but this puts a stamp on that declaration,” 18-time Grand Slam singles champion and ESPN broadcaster Chris Evert said in an interview at Wimbledon. “He’s done it at a young age, he’s done it in middle age and he’s done it as an older tennis player, and he’s done it on all surfaces.”
Having children has had a positive effect on his career, Federer said. Federer and his wife Mirka in 2009 became the parents of twin girls, who waved at their father from the player’s family box after he won.
“That has had a massive impact on my life,” he said. “It’s helped my game more than anything because I think I’m playing some of the best tennis of my life right now, and have been for a long time now. But just to be able to juggle everything together has been a challenge.”
After “some tough losses” against younger players since beating Murray in Melbourne two years ago, Federer said his confidence started to build at the end of last season.
He was knocked out in the Wimbledon quarterfinals the previous two years, blowing a two-set lead in 2011 against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. Federer also lost his last two U.S. Open semifinals against Novak Djokovic of Serbia, despite having match points in both. Djokovic, 25, will drop to No. 2 after losing to Federer in the semifinals at the All England Club.
A six-week break after the Flushing Meadows event last season helped Federer recover and he won a record sixth ATP World Tour Finals title in November.
“The confidence rose,” said Federer, who received prize money of 1.15 million pounds ($1.78 million) for winning his latest Wimbledon title. “This is when I realized a lot is possible in 2012.”
Murray has now been beaten by the Swiss right-hander in three major finals.
“I lost to a guy who has now won this tournament seven times and is No. 1 in the world,” said the Scottish right-hander, who cried as he addressed the Centre Court crowd, which included U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. “We’re talking about one of the greatest athletes of all time here.”
Murray had been trying to become the first British man to win a major singles title since Fred Perry won the U.S. Championships in 1936, when Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle Edward VIII was on the throne and male tennis players wore long trousers. Perry also won Wimbledon in 1936.
Federer is “one of the all-time great players,” Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, said in an interview. “He’s had to improve himself, and the biggest challenge has been to see if he could beat these younger players. He’s had the chance to beat Djokovic and now Murray. This will just be about his best win.”
Although Federer is the oldest man in the top 20, he’s still mentally fresher than most, Evert said.
“Roger is the kind of player that lets everything roll off him really easily,” Evert said. “He takes his wins, and he forgets about them. When he loses, he forgets about it. He’s not as mentally burnt out as a normal 30-year-old player would be.”