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After yesterday’s semi-finals, we now know the line-up for the 2012 Wimbledon Men’s final. 6-times champion Roger Federer against the Scot Andy Murray. It will be Murray’s 1st Wimbledon final, although he has made it to the final of a Major three times before (twice in the Australian Open and once in the US Open). Although Murray is a fellow Celt, I will be shouting for Roger Federer, my favourite player of the last decade.

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Roger Federer in his jacket celebrating 15 Major titles.

This will be Andy Murray’s 1st Wimbledon final and his 4th Major final. He is yet to win a Major.

Federer has the chance to set a number of records on Sunday. Should be win, he will increase his record of Major titles to 17, widening the gap between him and the previous holder Pete Sampras, who won 14 in his career. He will also equal Pete Sampras’ record of 7 Wimbledon titles. Thirdly, he will become only the 3rd man behind Sampras and Rafa Nadal to have won a particular Major 7 times (Nadal achieved this by winning the French Open for a record 7th time this June). And lastly, should he win on Sunday, he will go back to being Number 1 in the World rankings, which will mean he will beat Pete Sampras’ record of the most weeks ranked as World number 1.

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Pete Sampras shaking hands with the man who would eclipse his Majors record, Roger Federer.

Why am I such a big fan of Federer? For me, he is the most complete tennis player I have seen since John McEnroe. I know that is a pretty big statement to make, but it is my opinion! His range of shots, his ability to either play at the baseline or come to the net, is something I don’t feel I’ve seen since John McEnroe. Also, his touch. He has a level of skill and touch with the ball which again, I have not seen since John McEnroe. Sure, in the last 2-3 years Federer has increasingly lost to Nadal and, this last 12 months, to Djokovic. But, without taking anything away from these players, I find they rely more on power, speed and strength rather than the range of shots Federer has. Also, just for Federer’s backhand, he deserves a place in the list of the very best tennis players. As someone who never managed to master a decent backhand, I am in awe of the power and precision he is able to get on his backhand. It is the finest men’s backhand I have ever seen, with Justin Henin having the best women’s backhand I can remember ever seeing.

Should Federer win on Sunday, and thus achieve the list I made above of accomplishments and records, where does it place him in the list of all time tennis greats? It is so difficult (impossible) to compare players from different eras. Not only has the game changed, with the development of modern, more powerful rackets, but also the tournaments have changed. If Djokovic had won the French Open in June he would have become the 1st player since Rod Laver in 1969 to have held all 4 Majors at the same time. Although Federer and Nadal have won all 4 Majors, they have not held them at the same time. And, even if Djokovic had won the French Open, he would not have won all 4 Majors in the same calendar year. Again, Rod Laver is the last person to have done this, in 1969.

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Rod Laver, the only man in the Open era to have done the Grand Slam (winning all 4 Majors in the same calendar year).

What is remarkable about Rod Laver’s achievements is that he did the calendar Grand Slam twice, in 1962 and 1969. And, he didn’t play any of the Majors in the period 1963-1967 as he was banned from playing them, as he turned professional after his 1962 Grand Slam. In 1968 tennis went “open” (allowing professionals to play) and Laver won Wimbledon in that year (note: the Australian Open in 1968 did not allow professionals, the first Major to be open to professionals was the French Open of 1968). The following year, he won the Grand Slam, the first player (male or female) to win it in the Open era, and the only male player to have done so. One can only speculate how many Laver could have won, if he’d been allowed to compete during those years from 1963 to 1967.

However, one has to also remember, and this is not to take anything away from Laver’s remarkable achievements, that in his day 3 of the Majors were held on grass, the only one which wasn’t was the French Open. Additinoally, the Australian Open was held in December at the end of the year, and very few Northern Hemisphere players used to bother going to Australia for it, making it a much easier tournament to win than it is today.

Ultimately I think trying to compare players from different eras is impossible. One can talk about records, number of titles won etc. But even that depends on who is around at the same time. Federer finds himself playing at a time when the level of competition from Nadal and Djokovic is very high, it may be that in Laver’s day he did not have such fierce competition.

I am too young to remember Rod Laver, but I grew up admiring the skill and touch of John McEnroe. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, due to his frequent outbursts at officials. But, I always saw this as his perfectionism, and also the fact that most of the time he probably did see the ball better than the line judges.

For me, the greatest display of tennis I have ever seen is his victory over Jimmy Connors in the 1984 Wimbledon Men’s final. He completely destroyed Connors, playing as if possessed. He won 6-1, 6-1, 6-2. He himself says it is the best match of tennis he has ever played, every shot he tried came off, and some of the shots he tried were unbelievable. Bearing in mind that Connors was the no. 2 in the World at the time, the gulf between the standard of tennis of the two in that match is truly remarkable.

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John McEnroe, holding the Wimbledon Men’s title cup, which he won in 1981, 1982 and 1984.

The entire 1984 final between McEnroe and Connors seems to be available on YouTube, split into multiple parts. Here is the 1st part:

But, although I would dearly like Federer to win on Sunday, I am in a bit of a win-win situation, because if Andy Murray wins he will become the first Celt to win Wimbledon ever, and we Celts have to stick together. 🙂

UPDATE

Federer wins 3-1. Well done Federer!

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From today’s (Monday the 9th of July 2012) Daily Telegraph newspaper.


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