Swiss delight on French clay

Swiss delight on French clay

Returning from injury, Roger Federer climbed one more peak with Davis Cup victory

Swiss delight on French clay

It looked like an ending, with the confetti floating down and a record crowd watching Roger Federer and his Swiss teammates celebrate for the first time with the big, bright and shiny Davis Cup.

It is not the end, of course. Federer might be 33 years old; might have a tricky back, though there was no visible evidence of that last Sunday; and might now have won almost — almost — everything a tennis champion could ever care to win.

But he is intent on continuing to work as a master craftsman, testing his skills and his staying power against younger, less decorated tennis talents. He is already signed up to play in India in a new team tennis league and in Brisbane, Australia, in the first week of the 2015 season.

He is one of the most remarkable sports figures of any era, and last Sunday, he walked loose-limbed onto the indoor red clay and smoothly secured the final point required to make Switzerland the 14th nation to win the Davis Cup.

Federer’s victory over Richard Gasquet, which gave the Swiss an insurmountable 3-1 advantage over France, looked like business as usual unless you remembered seeing Federer practicing tentatively in the chill on the same court three nights before, three days after withdrawing from the final of the year-end ATP Tour championships with a back problem.

“I mean, he played 20 minutes on Wednesday without making one slide,” said Claudio Mezzadri, the former Swiss Davis Cup captain. “He served, like, 50 percent power and played no points.”

But Federer’s powers of recuperation and adaptation are already well established, and after struggling and losing in a hurry against Gael Monfils, he had the bite back in his strokes for the doubles victory with Stan Wawrinka. Federer then kicked into something resembling his highest gear, never facing a break point against Gasquet and mixing full-force forehand winners with the feathery backhand drop shot winner that he conjured on match point.

Even before the ball bounced twice, he was dropping to his knees, and he then pitched forward onto the clay — all alone with the moment — until Switzerland’s captain, Severin Luethi, arrived to start the party. Federer was soon teary-eyed — once a routine occurrence after big matches, but now a rare sight.

“For me, personally, I’m obviously unbelievably happy,” Federer said. “I’ve been playing in this competition for probably 15 years now, but in the end, I wanted it more for the guys, for Severin and Stan and the staff and everybody involved. This is one for the boys.”

It is also another exhibit in the still-open case concerning Federer’s precise place in tennis history. He already has a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles and has already been ranked No 1 for a record 302 weeks. He has already won an Olympic gold medal in doubles with Wawrinka and shown a remarkable degree of consistency and durability at the highest level.

Now he has been part of winning the game’s top team trophy as well, and thus joins many of the game’s greatest champions past — Bill Tilden, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras — and present — Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — on the list of Davis Cup champions.

Federer was a Davis Cup regular in his early years and led Switzerland to the 2003 semifinals, where he blew a two-set, 5-3 lead in the decisive match to Lleyton Hewitt of Australia. But in recent years, with Federer focused on individual goals and often available only for relegation matches, Wawrinka has carried the biggest load for Switzerland, using precious energy to play in the competition, whose rounds are usually scheduled a week after Grand Slam events or other top-line tournaments.

This year, Wawrinka, with help from his Swedish coach, Magnus Norman, has taken his game to another level, winning his first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open and finishing the year at No 4. And it was he, not Federer, who set the tone for the Swiss team in this final with his cocksure victory over the French No 1, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in the opening singles match.

“I’ve been dreaming of this Davis Cup for years,” Wawrinka said. “I’ve been trying everything I can to win this competition. This year, maybe, was the ideal year. It started off very well in Serbia. It ends up perfectly well here in France. We made many sacrifices during the years to be able to win it. We did it now. We are very happy.”

“Many things were written about me and Roger, Roger’s back,” Wawrinka said. “And for the French team, it was, 'Everything is great,' and they were ready to go to war, if I can use their own words. What happened was totally the opposite.”

It made for quite an ending to the 2014 season, even if there is plenty more tennis to come from Federer and Wawrinka.