WIMBLEDON, England – Roger Federer is building something of a reputation as an on-court crier, and he remembers well the first time he wept after winning a match.
It was July 2, 2001, at Wimbledon, the tournament that means more to him than any other. Federer was 19, up-and-coming and making his Centre Court debut in the fourth round when he stunned Pete Sampras, who was 29, seeded No. 1 and seeking an eighth Wimbledon title.
“I used to cry almost after every single match I lost as a junior. It’s not at all a feeling like it’s the end of the world – of course not, because tennis is not everything – but some people can control it, some people can’t,” Federer said. “Crying after a victory is something that started when I beat Pete.”
Back then, Federer had yet to reach the semifinals, let alone win a title, at any Grand Slam event. Eight years later, as Wimbledon begins Monday with a roof over Centre Court for the first time, Federer arrives at the All England Club bidding to break Sampras’ career record of 14 major championships.
The complexion of Federer’s pursuit of a sixth Wimbledon title changed significantly Friday: He doesn’t have to worry about dealing with his nemesis, defending champion Rafael Nadal, who withdrew from the tournament because of bad knees.
Nadal’s exit was the talk of the grounds Saturday, and Federer called it “very disappointing for the tournament, and also for myself.”
“It’s unfortunate. I’m sad for him, because it must have been a very difficult decision to make,” Federer said. “I’d love to play him. He’s my main rival. We’ve had some wonderful matches over the years, and especially the one here last year was the one that obviously stands out.”
Ah, yes, last year, when Nadal reduced Federer to tears by winning the longest singles final in tournament history, a 4-hour, 48-minute test of skill and will that ended 9-7 in the fifth set as darkness descended.
That 2008 setback ended Federer’s streaks of 40 consecutive wins at Wimbledon and 65 in a row on grass.