Just watch the ball. Ignore everything else crumbling around you.
Today at Wimbledon the top two seeds succumbed to bodily decomposition—Andy Murray over an excruciating five sets, Novak Djokovic in a shock second-set retirement. (The latter, nursing an elbow injury, ominously suggested that he might be off the tour for “half a year.”) All that separates Roger Federer from racking up a record eighth Wimbledon title, now, is Various Tall Men, who have beaten him seven times in 34 tries, and only once on grass. The field is soft with large galoots. Which is to say: Don’t muck this up, buddy.
First to try and spoil the party is gaunt slugger Tomas Berdych (6-18 against Federer) in the semifinal. Federer has lost just twice this year, both times to laughable names, but Berdych gets Best Runner-Up: He mustered two match points against Fed in March at the Miami Open, only to blow both and watch the Swiss ace his way out of that bind, win the match, and eventually the title. Berdych has fared well at Wimbledon, making the finals in 2010 and the semis the last two years, but it’s hard to find any reason to renew faith in him this year, absent any stern test of his game. He floated undisturbed to the semifinals: Clay prince Dominic Thiem might’ve been the No. 8 seed, but he’s a stuttering wreck on grass; Jeremy Chardy, Ryan Harrison, and David Ferrer are not scalps to brag about. Novak Djokovic might have offered that test, but his arm turned to mush too soon for us to tell.
Should Federer advance, he’d next face the winner of Sam Querrey (0-3) and Marin Cilic (1-6). Querrey redlined for long enough to beat Nadal for the title in Acapulco, but could he can repeat that improbable feat, or any of today’s uncharacteristic backhands, against Federer? Cilic is a much scarier proposition, a high-shouldered brooder who stalks around the court in between mashing backhands down the line. His well-rounded game has taken him deep into majors, including a win over Federer en route to the 2014 U.S. Open, and earlier today he polished off Gilles Muller, Rafael Nadal’s glassy-eyed killer, in five sets. The last one rang out an emphatic 6-1. Cilic, who has no chill, could surely do it.
As for Roger, how’s he holding up? Federer is fresh off beating a different Tall Man in Milos Raonic, avenging his loss in last year’s Wimbledon semifinals. This match plodded along in unremarkable straight sets, a couple scoops of vanilla brilliance, shit like this—
—when all of sudden Raonic threatened to break serve with some gutsy hitting on the run, before Federer managed to restabilize.
Both sides held until the end and Raonic ran out into an early lead in the tiebreak, before Federer put the very good boy to sleep, for good.
He saved us some of the really good stuff as a nightcap.
Setting aside the hypothetical contingent of Tomas Berdych stans (maybe he finally deserves a major, after all this), or nationalist fervor (an American man hasn’t made the semifinals of a major since 2009), it feels as if the whole world is politely waiting for Federer to finish the job. It’s hard to recall the last time someone like this was pitted against three players who command no particular loyalties of their own. No other representatives of the Big Four (or Five, if you want to loop in Stan) to stir up any oppositional zeal; no unexpected youngsters to brighten up the veteran broth; just the GOAT and a couple of guys to remember. So: Let this happen. After a battering of late-career disappointment, Federer’s acolytes pray he can do this one more time—or, more accurately, “one more time” since the last “one more time.” (They are a greedy bunch.)