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Eighth heaven: King Federer reclaims his kingdom

Roger Federer poses with the trophy as he celebrates his win against Marin Cilic in the Wimbledon final on July 17. Photograph: (Reuters)

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Jul 16, 2017, 10.50 PM (IST)

By Yash Jha

"I wasn't sure if I was going to ever be here in another finals after last year. I had some tough ones losing to Novak in 2014 and 2015. But I always believed that I can maybe come back and do it again, and if you believe you can go really, really far in your life, and I think I did that and I'm happy. I kept on believing and dreaming and here I am today, with the eighth. It's fantastic."

When Roger Federer first won a Wimbledon Men's Singles title, on July 6, 2003, George W Bush was President of the USA, Facebook was yet to launch, Wayne Rooney played for Everton, and Andre Agassi was ranked world number one.

Over 14 years from the day he became a Grand Slam champion - in a world where Donald Trump presides over the US, the world seemingly exists on social media, Rooney has returned to Everton after about a lifetime at Manchester United, and Agassi has been retired for over a decade - Federer became the most successful male player in the history of the oldest and most prestigious competition in tennis. 

"It is very special. Wimbledon was always my favourite tournament, will always be my favourite tournament. My heroes walked the grounds here, the courts here, and because of them, I think I became a better player too. So to mark history here at Wimbledon means a lot to me," he said at the post-match press conference following his capturing of a record-extending 19th Grand Slam title.

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At 35 years and 342 days, he also became the oldest singles champion at Wimbledon, irrespective of gender, in the Open Era. 

History would have always had room - one of its better suites, even - for Federer, regardless of what happened on Sunday. Regardless of what happened in 2017. Or the year before that.

In July 2009, with his securing of a sixth title at the All England Club after a four-hour, 77-game long marathon against Andy Roddick, Federer had become the most decorated player in men's tennis, surpassing Pete Sampras' haul of 14 titles.

A 16th Slam followed soon at the 2010 Australian Open, but then came 2011 - his first year without a Slam since his breakthrough win in 2003. 

He continued the love affair with Wimbledon in 2012, but then came four-and-a-half years bereft of victory. 

It wasn't so much the slide of the Swiss maestro that was discomforting - what goes up comes down, the best get bettered, it's all par for the course - as the manner. Federer was losing his mojo, his opponents were finding their feet, the aura of invincibility was gone. 

Then, in 2016, came the "clicking" of his knees while he ran a bath for his twin daughters at home. A torn cartilage would need a surgery; the return would read 18 matches, zero finals, zero wins against top-10 players.

And when it was known that Federer would miss the entire season post-Wimbledon, including the US Open - only the second major he skipped in 17 years - the inevitable question of retirement that had been following him ever since he completed his career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2009 had resurfaced.

"I’ve heard retirement [talk]since 2009 when I won the French Open and people were like, well, what else are you playing for? I’m like, what’s wrong with you people? Don’t you understand that playing tennis is great fun? I don’t need to win three slams a year to be content. If the body doesn’t want to do it, if the mind doesn’t want to do it, if my wife doesn’t want me to do it, if my kids don’t like it, I’ll stop tomorrow. zero problem. But I love tennis in such a big way that I don’t care if I don’t win so much any more. For me that is irrelevant," the then-17-time-major-winner said in an interview with The Guardian during his hiatus.

Away from the tour for six months, Federer returned at the Australian Open in January.  His record since: 31-2. At Grand Slams and Masters 1000 events: 25-0. Titles won: Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Wimbledon.

The king of SW19 had waited five years to regain his kingdom. His Center Court audience had never had to endure as long between any two Federer titles.

But all that was now over; the man who turns 36 next month had made it 19 at SW19.

"It's a dream to play here really, and I hope this wasn't my last match, and I hope I can come back next year and try to defend the title," was his parting shot to the faithful.

In the time between Federer's first title and this, his latest, the landscape of the world has changed a fair bit. It isn't the greatest place to be around.

But till the time Roger Federer keeps winning Grand Slams, till he keeps turning up at Center Court at Wimbledon, till he keeps playing this sport - the world doesn't need any saving.

Asian Games gold medallist and former India No 1 Somdev Devvarman speaks to WION's sports editor Digvijay Singh Deo on Roger Federer's record 8th Wimbledon title. (WION)

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