Commentary

Federer has faced history -- and won

Updated: July 8, 2009, 3:58 PM ET
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

Roger FedererAP Photo/Anja NiedringhausAfter his record 15th Grand Slam win, can anyone argue that Roger Federer isn't the greatest ever?

The sun was already bright in the sky by the time Roger Federer drifted off to sleep after his historic Wimbledon triumph on Sunday.

It was 7 a.m. He had spent a giddy night celebrating with family and friends, attending the Champions Ball and surfing the net to see fan and media reaction to his 15th Grand Slam victory.

Newspapers around the world featured photos of his victory on the front pages, and inside was glowing praise of his performance. The only quibble was about his postmatch choice of jacket, which had a pre-printed "15" on the back.

By this point, there wasn't much time left for the champion to sleep; he was due back at the All England Club in just three hours for more interviews.

Not surprisingly, Federer woke up feeling stiff and sore. On top of the short night, he had barely survived a bruising battle against Andy Roddick in the final, winning a 16-14 fifth set and a match that lasted four hours and 18 minutes.

But memories of the win quickly resurfaced, making it easy to forget the pain and roll out of bed. "You wake up and you're like, 'Man, you did it again!'" he laughed during one of his sessions with reporters Monday. "Off you go, and then you talk about good things again. It's wonderful."

It's a routine Federer has become familiar with in the process of building one of the most impressive tennis résumés of all time, but his latest triumph could be the highlight. In just the past month-plus, Federer has completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open and -- with the victory at Wimbledon -- has broken Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.

"I don't know if I can ever top this," Federer said. "This last month, with all the records on the line and coming through both times … it's quite amazing.

"I don't know if I've had a more happy period in my tennis life."

It was the exact opposite a year earlier, when Federer had just lost an epic five-set final to Rafael Nadal. He fled to the nearest island retreat, shutting himself off from the outside world and avoiding all images of the match.

Now, even those dark moments seem to have a bright side.

"I came out being horribly sad; it was a tough loss," said Federer. "But then again, I look back and go -- and it's going to be similar to this time around for Roddick -- like, 'What an amazing match we played.'

"Sometimes it takes a loss to make you strong," he said. "As you can see, I reacted, I've come back."

Severin Luthi, the Swiss Davis Cup captain who acts as a part-time coach for Federer, believes the rebound was spurred by Federer's passion.

[+] EnlargeRoger Federer
AP Photo/Lionel CironneauA back injury hampered Federer early this year, but those who saw it as the start of a career decline couldn't have been more wrong.

He identified a five-set defeat to Nadal in the Australian Open final in January as his friend's lowest moment this season. "Australia was pretty tough," Luthi said. "It's huge that he loves tennis. That helps him a lot. Otherwise, he would maybe need some time off afterwards.

"But he loves tennis, so he went on. He was practicing hard, he was staying focused, and everything paid off now."

Federer feels that completing the long and sometimes rocky road to 15 Slams is testament to his "fight."

"I'm famous for being all casual and relaxed out there, not showing much," said the man sometimes known as Artful Roger. "But we all know how different it was."

It's apt that Federer's official return to the tennis summit was marked by a five-set win, because his early-season slump had been defined by a string of collapses in the deciding set. After fading badly in the fifth set against Nadal in Australia, Federer fell to Andy Murray 6-1 in the third set at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, and lost in three sets again to Novak Djokovic at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

What changed? "I have no more back pain," said Federer, who began to struggle with the problem last fall.

"I'm not scared any more of going into the very corner of the court and digging out a ball, which I was scared of doing at times. And that's why my serve sometimes faltered in important moments, because I didn't have belief that my body was holding up.

"So I would play way too offensive, and against the top guys, that was too risky, and this is why I would lose."

It was only at the end of April, at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, when Federer began to feel "like the old guy again."

It has had a big effect on his game: "Now I feel so much better, and I can play the way I normally play -- use offense, use defense. My serve is clicking. I know in the important moments I'll make the right decisions."

With his biggest career goals accomplished, Federer has returned to Switzerland to turn his attention to his personal life. He married longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec in April, and the two are expecting their first child this summer.

"[I'm] looking forward to going back to Switzerland and staying put for a little bit, because I've been on the road. It's been a lot of dedication trying to achieve this back-to-back with Paris and Wimbledon," said Federer. "Mirka helped me in a big way, so now it's my turn to support her as much as I can, and I hope everything's going to go well."

But when he returns to the tour later this summer, Federer plans to be as determined as ever. After Sunday's victory, he came to his press conference wearing a T-shirt that read: "There is no finish line."

Still, the question remains: What now? "I'm still young in tennis terms, I think," said the 27-year-old Fed. "It's only after 30 that the clock starts ticking."

While there are more Slams left to try to win and other records to chase, the most meaningful challenge may come from those just behind him in the rankings. In particular, there is the task of improving his 7-13 match record against the 23-year-old Nadal, which has been used to undercut Federer's case for greatest-ever status. And Federer is just 2-6 against Murray, 22, and an increasing number of other players are threats when they're in form.

That may be why remaining No. 1 is again a goal for Federer, who returned to the top spot after winning Wimbledon. "Getting there was awfully hard, [but] once I was No. 1, everything just clicked," he said. "I beat all the other top-10 guys, I won every final I played. And I hope that's going to return again, that I'm able to dominate my fellow rivals again and go from there."

Federer has faced history and won. Now there are only flesh-and-blood opponents left to battle.

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.