Wimbledon 2017: Roger Federer finally reaches his 'special number' - and he's still improving
Roger Federer has finally reached his "special number" with his eighth Wimbledon win - and somehow he's still improving, writes Dan Quarrell at the All England Club.
It was supposed to be the time when Roger Federer's illustrious career was on the wane. It was supposed to be the time when younger stars stepped up and usurped the king. Instead, 2017 has seen a glorious resurgence from the great Swiss and no marked statement from his supposed heirs.
Just minutes after winning his 19th Grand Slam, Federer's focus had already switched to number 20 as he revealed that he had, in surpassing Pete Sampras's tally, finally reached his "special number" of eight at Wimbledon.
Sitting in front of the assembled media for his press conference, Federer did not cut a jubilant, self-satisfied champion but instead a satisfied and still fiercely-motivated one. As he looked ahead to the end of the season, the sense of more to come was palpable.
Switzerland's Roger Federer holds the winner's trophy after beating Croatia's Marin CilicGetty Images
"I'm incredibly surprised at how well this year is going," he said with a look that indicated he was not surprised at all. "I did not believe I'd win two [Grand Slams] this year. It's incredible.
" It is a special number [eight], at my favourite tournament. It's truly amazing."
"For me, a break really worked wonders... my wife still likes me playing. A break might not work for everyone - all players are different and require different things to be successful, but for me it has been perfect."
A further joke about being a "part-time player now" gave the impression that he was easing off, while proving the exact opposite: that he has found a uniquely perfect rhythm on the Tour in very strategically and selectively managing his schedule.
There can be no doubt that Federer has already changed the sport, not only in terms of his achievements and sustained superiority, but in how he has managed both his body and his schedule to do so. He has set a new trend, and one that will surely be followed for years to come.
With both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic having already suggested that enforced breaks from the sport may be necessary for them to regain the required fitness and form to add to their Grand Slam tallies, Federer is ahead of the game, as he cheekily alluded to when he suggested he take yet more time out of the game in his on-court victory speech.
In skipping the clay-court season, he made a very clear statement and one which is now a resounding inspiration to all those top-tier players feeling as though the gruelling ATP schedule is too much to bear. In the closing stages of a career that can seem frustratingly fleeting, every top tennis player has a right to be picky, and Federer is proving by far the most effective in being so.
In winning his 12th Wimbledon semi-final and eighth title, Federer has very clearly separated himself from once king of Centre Court, Sampras, and put himself yet further ahead of the pack in the all-time men's tennis greats debate.
The Swiss became the second-oldest man to reach a Wimbledon final in the open era with the great Ken Rosewall having finished as the runner-up at the age of 39 back in 1974 – and he proceeded to swat aside Cilic to take a record eighth title at SW19 with consummate ease.
With number 19 in the bag, Federer knows he holds the very clear ascendancy once more on the men's Tour; with the US Open next on his Slam-only radar, he knows he has the best chance of winning the final 'big one' of the season - and in so doing, hit the improbable 20 mark.
As his conquered opponent Cilic ominously revealed with a weary sigh when asked about Federer's astonishing comeback, "even at the age he is now, he's still improving".
The remarkable thing is, he is absolutely right. Having reached his "special number", Federer now really is in dreamland.