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2:03PM

Federer on his loss: ‘I’m not sure what happened’

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — He sounded as bewildered as the rest of us. Sure, it’s happened before, a favorite squandering a lead, breaking bad — and that’s the key phrase here — when it’s all going so good, Arnold Palmer throwing away a seven-shot lead in a U.S. Open, the Falcons falling apart after going in front by 25 points in Super Bowl LI.

But not Roger Federer. Not the acknowledged greatest tennis player ever. Not at Wimbledon, where he had won the men’s singles seven times. Not against Kevin Anderson, whom he’d beaten the four times they’d ever met.

There was Roger on Wednesday, coasting, breezing, playing with the grace and skill we — and he — would expect, even a month before his 37th birthday.

Two sets ahead, a lead in the third, one point from his fifth straight semifinals, from his 12th in 15 Wimbledons overall. And then?

“After that,” he would confess, “I’m not sure what happened.”

On the scoreboard, what happened was Anderson, the big guy (6-foot-8) from South Africa (he lives in Florida and has applied for U.S. citizenship), stunned Federer, 2-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 13-11.

A mini-marathon, 4 hours, 14 minutes. A maxi-surprise.

“I’m up two sets to one,” said a chastened Federer. “It’s all good, so... At that point, I wasn’t thinking of losing.”

But he lost. He lost for only the second time in a Wimbledon match after winning the first two sets (Jo-Wilfred Tsonga beat him 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4). He lost after having his serve broken for the first time at Wimbledon since last year’s semi against Tomas Berdych, 85 games.

“I was very happy that I got off to the right start,” said Federer, “as I was able to take control of the game.”

It’s the end that counts in sports. It’s how you finish. And Anderson, who had 28 service aces — 11 in the fifth set, which lasted for an hour and a half — was able to finish off Federer.

“I think I had my chances,” said Federer, “so it’s disappointing. No doubt about it. I just don’t know exactly how I couldn’t create more opportunities once the third set came around. He was consistent. He was solid. Credit to him for hanging around that long.”

Anderson, who through the second set had dropped all 10 sets he’d ever played against the Swiss master starting in 2013, will take that credit and take his spot in the semis against an American, John Isner, who beat the Canadian Milos Raonic.

“It felt great to get that match.” said Anderson. ”I mean, the toughest thing players face when playing somebody like Roger in this setting is giving yourself a chance.”

Even if nobody else gave him a chance.

“Again,” said Anderson, who spent a year at the University of Illinois, “I really hope it’s an example of sticking to your dreams.”

More importantly, sticking to your plan. A day earlier, he told a writer from Metro, the free London paper, “I feel like a lot of aspects of my game can give him a lot of trouble. I’m a big player, big serve. I’m going to have to really take it to him.”

In truth, Anderson took it from Federer, took away the opportunity to add a 20th Grand Slam title to his record.

“That has nothing to do with my opponent,” Federer would contend, when of course it did have a great deal to do with his opponent. Anderson didn’t melt under the Federer spell — “Roger, Roger” was the scream at Centre Court. Anderson was resolute.

“It was just one of those days where you hope to get by,” said Federer. “Somehow, I almost could have.”

Almost, that’s the word so often used by the people who play Federer. They had him. Then they didn’t have him. Then he hit the great passing shot, the great serve.

“I didn’t feel mental fatigue,” said Federer. “Now I feel horribly fatigued. It’s just awful. But that’s how it goes.”

It’s legitimate to wonder where Federer will go. He said he’ll return to Wimbledon, but it won’t be as defending champion, as the virtually unbeatable star.

“Today,” said Federer, “I had moments where I was great. I felt like I was reading his serve, other moments where I don’t know where the hell I was moving.”

He knows now. He was moving out of Wimbledon.

2:14PM

In England, a curse ending, a tennis tournament continuing

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — You’ve heard the line. England and America are two counties separated by a common language. It was attributed to George Bernard Shaw, who apparently never said it the way Mark Twain never said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

There are, certainly, items other than words that make us realize the U.S. and U.K. (right, that’s more than just England) are dissimilar. Start with football. Same name, very different game, although similar obsession.

Yes, we’re smack in the middle of the oldest, most important tennis tournament on the planet, the All England Lawn Championships, better known as Wimbledon. But also we’re figuratively smack in almost-the-middle-but-closer-to-the-end of the World Cup, the quarterfinals.

And England still is playing. As if anybody able to read the common language that separates the two countries is not well aware.

England won a penalty shootout over Colombia, 4-3, Tuesday night to advance after the teams tied, 1-1, through regulation and two overtimes. People literally were dancing in the streets when the game ended, or at least in one street, Lillie Road in southwest London, not far from Wimbledon.

Trying to avoid the game would have been like trying to avoid the Super Bowl on that first Sunday in February.

“I watched the game,” said Sam Querrey after his 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 second-round victory (in tennis, not soccer). “I was at the house that we’re staying at. Kind of tucked back. I’m sure if we were a little closer to the village, we would have heard. I saw some people in videos going crazy.”

Querrey, a southern Californian, stayed cool after his win, as did fellow Americans Serena and Venus Williams and Madison Keys after they won, as contrasted to the national population following the Cup triumph.

The Curse had been lifted. Or kicked away.

We knew the Curse of the Bambino, the Curse of the Billy Goat. We knew the Curse of Candlestick, the San Francisco Giants never winning a title there. We knew the Wimbledon Curse, no British male having won men’s singles for 77 years until Andy Murray in 2013.

But only England knew the Curse of the Penalty Shootout.

That having a shootout to decide games in what some insist is the most important of any sporting event is nonsense, like shooting free throws to decide an NBA playoff game or holding a home run contest to decide the World Series. But that’s the way it’s always been done.

And, until Tuesday night, always the way that proved fatal for England. Six times previously, a World Cup game involving England had gone to a shootout, a kick-off if you will. Six times previously, England lost. Not this time.

“It’s the headline we have waited a lifetime to write,” headlined the tabloid Sun on the back page, “ENGLAND WIN ON PENALTIES.”

“Eric and Pick End Curse.” That’s Eric Dier with the deciding goal and Jordan Pickford, the England goalie whose diving left-handed save kept out what would have been a final Colombia score.

They never forget in England, where in the 1986 Cup at Mexico City they were beaten, 2-1, by Argentina in a quarterfinal on a disputed goal by Diego Maradona, who was accused of punching the ball in with his hand and countered with the explanation, “It was the hand of God.”

What delight then the creator of the headline under the photo of Jordan Pickford’s save must have taken in writing, “THE HAND OF JORD.”

Federer, the defending champ at Wimbledon was less enthralled with the England soccer win. His heart and attention were with his home country, Switzerland, which was kept from the quarters when it was shut out by Sweden, 1-0.

“It’s an opportunity missed,” agreed Federer, who on the courts rarely misses any opportunity. “In the end I thought (Sweden) were maybe a little bit better. It’s not sour. I think we deserved what we got.”

An English journalist then said to Federer, “Which team will you be rooting for now? Surely there’s only one answer to that.”

Federer hesitated, smiled and said, “Is there?’’

We’ll never know.

 

2:57PM

What a 'Messi': Wimbledon starts in the shadow of World Cup soccer

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Hot and hazy in Greater London, where the front-page headlines that aren’t about England’s chances against Belgium in the World Cup seem to be about the world’s chances against Donald Trump in political maneuvers.

The Championships, Wimbledon, which start Monday, with the usual stars, Roger, Rafa and Serena and the usual controversies — Serena Williams says it’s unfair she’s drug-tested more than other players — are being kicked around, metaphorically.  

Soon, tennis will regain the attention owed to an event that’s been played since 1877. But about the only Page 1 Wimbledon photo the last few days, not surprisingly, was of Andy Murray, who in 2013 became the first Brit in 77 years to take the men’s singles.

And then, still recovering from hip surgery in January, Murray announced Sunday he was not ready for best-of-five set matches and withdrew.

So, for the most unfortunate of reasons, he’ll be Page 1 stuff again.

On Sunday, the front pages of both the Times and the Telegraph were on soccer — yes, football here. “End of the World for Ronaldo and Messi,” said the Times about the stars of ousted Portugal and Argentina.

“Where’s the Hand of God when you need it?” was the Telegraph head, over a picture of Argentina’s Diego Maradona, who in 1986 scored to beat England and denied he whacked the ball with his hand.

And both the Telegraph and Times had the same headline in their sports sections: “Move Over Messi,” alluding to French teenager Kylian Mbappe, who scored twice in France’s 4-3 win over Argentina, and Lionel Messi, the LeBron James of soccer. Err, football.

Roger Federer is the LeBron James of tennis. He has won Wimbledon eight times and has 20 Grand Slam titles. He will be 37 in a month, certainly too old for a world-class player, but every year of the past four or five years he has been too old — and too successful.

Although only No. 2 in the ATP rankings behind Rafael Nadal, Federer is the No. 1 seed for this Wimbledon, as he has been for many other Wimbledons. The people in charge know quite well that Federer’s best surface is the grass at the All England Club, while Nadal, with his nine French Opens (the tennis purists refer to the tournament as Roland Garros), is magnificent on clay.

One of the two has won each of the last six Slams, starting with the 2017 Australian Open.

Americans never have been very good at soccer. Don’t worry about headlines; the U.S. didn’t even qualify for the World Cup. Since the early 2000s, neither have American men been very good at tennis.

The last U.S. winners in the Slams were Andre Agassi at the Australian and Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open, both in 2003.

Not since 2000 has an American, Pete Sampras, taken the men’s singles at Wimbledon. Not that long perhaps, when measured against the decades of World Series disappointment by the Red Sox and Cubs, but long enough.  

The U.S. ladies, meaning Venus Williams and sibling Serena, won when the men could not. But now Venus is 38 and was knocked out of the Australian and French in the first round. Serena is coming back from giving birth last September. She withdrew from the French before a scheduled fourth-round match against Maria Sharapova because of an injury.

Messi, arguably the best player in soccer, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo are gone from the World Cup, if not the world stage. Sport is a constant change, constant replacement. Father Time, or Mother Time, wins every match, every move.

Federer and Nadal, Serena and Venus Williams, someday will be too old. Not that you’ll be hearing anyone tell them to move over. In an individual sport, the individual has to make the decision that it’s time to leave.

Teams and tournaments, World Cups, Wimbledons, NBA playoffs, Super Bowls, go on and on. The athlete goes out. Inevitable and, as we were reminded by the World Cup, oh so painful.

 

4:56PM

Newsday (N.Y.): Roger Federer wins 8th Wimbledon title, beats Cilic

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England — It was less a match than a mismatch. Roger Federer, arguably the best male tennis player ever, who was going to win another Wimbledon anyway, in the final against a man with a blister on his foot and tears in his eyes, Marin Cilic.

Federer needed only one hour, 41 minutes to become the first eight-time winner of the Wimbledon men’s singles title, gaining an embarrassingly easy 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory. Pete Sampras and 19th century player William Renshaw each won seven.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2017 Newsday. All rights reserved.

11:26AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Milos Raonic beats Roger Federer in five sets in Wimbledon semifinal

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England—For Roger Federer, it might have been a last great hurrah.

Time and a young Canadian caught up with Federer on Friday in the Wimbledon men’s semifinals, with Milos Raonic scoring a 6-3, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win in what appeared to be a changing of the guard.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.