Roger Federer left the door tantalizingly ajar for local hero Andy Murray in the Wimbledon men’s singles final on Sunday, then slammed it shut to win a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title and in so doing return to the top of the world rankings.
The Swiss great, contesting his eighth final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, flirted with danger in the second set after losing the first, but just when Murray looked like ending 76 years of plucky British failure Federer gave a stunning reminder of his genius to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court.
When a Murray forehand looped narrowly wide after 3 hours, 24 minutes of enthralling action, Federer dropped to the turf in joy, just as he did in 2003 when he beat Australia’s Mark Philippoussis to begin a Grand Slam collection that now stands at 17.
For the second time in three Grand Slam finals against Murray he reduced the Scot to tears, although this match, unlike the others, was a contest to savor.
It was only after Centre Court’s translucent lid was slid across after heavy rain began to fall in the heart of the final that Federer took charge, striding to the win that puts him level with Pete Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon crowns.
At 30 years, 335 days he also became the oldest men’s champion since Arthur Ashe in 1975 and, to put the icing on the cake, yesterday’s rankings showed him back at No. 1 for the first time in two years, equaling Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at the summit.
“I played some of my best tennis in the last couple of matches,” Federer said after raising the trophy with his wife, Mirka, and giggling twin daughters, Charlene Riva and Myla Rose, watching on from the players’ box.
“I’ve missed playing in the finals and it feels like a great moment. I’ve gone through some struggles, so this one comes at the right time,” added Federer, whose last Grand Slam title was at the 2010 Australian Open.
For Murray, his girlfriend Kim Sears and many of the thousands watching the huge screen on Henman Hill under a forest of umbrellas, there was just despair.
“I’m getting closer,” Murray, whose valiant efforts were watched by Royal Box guests British Prime Minister David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton, choked as applause rang out.
“I was told after my semi-final that this was my best chance, Roger’s 30 now, but he’s not bad for a 30-year-old, he played a great tournament. Congratulations, you deserve it,” Murray said.
While Federer basked in the glow of another major title, Murray was left to contemplate equaling coach Ivan Lendl’s unwanted record of losing his first four Grand Slam finals.
A gracious Federer had words of encouragement.
“I think he’s giving himself so many looks at big titles. I really do believe deep down in me he will win Grand Slams, not just one,” Federer told reporters.
By defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Friday, Murray had become the first British man to reach the final since Bunny Austin in 1938 and as the players set foot on a sunlit Centre Court, there was an electric buzz of anticipation that he would emulate the 1936 title of Fred Perry.
Having failed to win a set in two Australian Open finals and one US Open final, Murray would have been excused early match nerves, but he came out firing to break Federer in the opening game of the match.