LONDON, July 5 – Roger Federer joined the legion of sporting legends on Sunday, his name sitting comfortably alongside Ali, Woods, Senna, Pele, Bradman, where just one name is enough to confer instant respect.His victory over Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final gave him a sixth All England Club title and a record 15th major, taking him past close friend Pete Sampras’s 14 which he equalled with his French Open breakthrough in June.
The 27-year-old, with 50 million dollars earned from his superlative career, has not only taken the game to a new level, but also his approach to his trade, both on and off the court.
Gracious in both victory and defeat, respectful to the game’s history and immensely media-friendly with his press conferences patiently carried out in English, French and Swiss-German, all delivered pitch-perfect.
When people are lost for words, occasionally they’ve been forced to adopt other means of recognising the great man – after his breakthough 2003 Wimbledon triumph, the people of Gstaad honoured him by presenting him with a cow.
But when the young Federer, who announced himself as the Wimbledon junior champion in 1998 and the winner of the prestigious Orange Bowl, started out on his road to fame, he wasn’t winning popularity contests.
"I used to bitch a lot at line calls. I used to carry on like an idiot," said Federer.
Slowly, steadily he matured under the guidance of respected coaches Peter Lundgren and Australian Peter Carter, whose eventual death in a car crash hit Federer hard, altering his perspective on life and career.
In 2001, in Milan, he won the first of his 59 titles before beating seven-time Wimbledon champion Sampras at the All England Club in a stunning last 16 triumph.
But one year later, the vulnerable, undeveloped side of Federer was still there for all to see when, tipped as the tournament favourite, he suffered a humiliating first round loss on Centre Court to Mario Ancic.
He set to work on improving all aspects of his game, with defence and consistency just as important as flamboyant attack.
"People used to tell me how easy I made it look, so I kind of felt I had to live up to this and play miracle shots, the crowd-pleasing stuff," he said.
"But I decided what I wanted was to win the match, not hit the best shot of the tournament. That was a big step for me mentally."
One year later, Federer beat Mark Philippoussis in the Wimbledon final for his first Grand Slam title, and he was on his way.
Five more Wimbledon trophies have followed, as have five US Opens, three Australian Open titles and a French Open.
Federer has been keen to credit wife Mirka for helping him end his youthful, on-court tantrums.
The couple, who met at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, married in April and are expecting their first child later this summer.
As Mirka Vavrinec, Federer’s wife was a regular player on the women’s tour until serious injury pushed her out of the game.
In the long term, that’s been to the Swiss star’s benefit.
"She helped me considerably, as a person. I developed faster, grew faster with her. Thanks to her I was very calm in the important moments in my career. She is always supportive. I owe her a lot," said Federer.