The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Like Hamlet, this had an air of inevitability
- Federerís perfection is mesmerising rather than exciting

So Roger Federer has won three Wimbledons in a row. Who will be the first to say that itís all rather a bore' But listen: donít do it around me, not unless you want the most frightful earful. You thought that was boring' Huh! Perhaps you should try something a bit less intellectually demanding. Shakespeare, for example.

You can enjoy sport, like everything else, on many different levels. You can buy Van Gogh table-mats and spill your soup on them, or you can give Van Gogh a lifetime of study. Sunday afternoon lacked cheap thrills: Above all, it lacked uncertainty. It was without any of sportís usual soap-opera pleasures.

And it was as good as sport gets. Federer beat Andy Roddick in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4, and it was never for an instant in doubt. You know from the first act that Hamlet will end badly for Hamlet: you knew from the first handful of games that Sunday afternoonís menís singles final would end badly for Roddick. That did not detract from the pleasure ' au contraire.

Federer has joined the hattrick men. I missed Fred Perry, but I know about Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras. They are appreciated now as the very greatest of champions but, at the time, those who preferred soap opera to sport complained of boredom. Now Federer is in their company and not by chance. He has done it by the same means as the other two: excellence.

And if you find excellence boring, then direct your attention away from sport, where excellence is the goal, even if it is rarely found. Instead, concentrate your mind, such as it is, on East Enders, where they value cheap gratification above such tedious matters as excellence.

Last year, Federer won his second Wimbledon championship despite playing badly. He won ever-so-slightly ugly. This pleased me deeply: it showed the steel beneath the silk, the rock behind the velvet. But there has been no such thing as ugliness to contemplate this time around.

I have had the privilege of covering Federerís last three matches in the tournament. Each opponent played well, and each one of them played in a radically different style: Fernando Gonzalez, a shot a ball plus a demented forehand; Lleyton Hewitt, all-court angle-finder; Roddick, power mixed with more power. And hereís the genius of it: each personís game seemed specifically constructed as a showcase for Federerís talents.

And each person lost in straight sets. You come up with the game, Federer will come up with the counter-game. You raise your game, Federer will raise his. Raise again, again, you really are that good ... but Federer has more raises than anyone else on earth. And he has improved since he first won; he is improving all the time and getting mentally stronger.

Roddick came in with a gameplan based on aggression. He charged about the court in a blazing passion to set things aright ' or was he actually being lured' He came out to set the agenda and suffered the spooky feeling that he was doing exactly what Federer wanted. Worse, he was doing exactly what Federer told him: told him by means of power and angle and accuracy and tempo.

There was a point when Federer made a startling mis-hit ' he puts so much in to every ball that such things happen ' and somehow turned that into his own advantage. It was as if he had deliberately set Roddick up with a shot off the frame ' a nonsense of course, but that is the illusion he creates. This kind of perfection is mesmerising rather than exciting and it certainly mesmerised Roddick. By the end, he must have felt like a man fighting a ghost.

Not even the rain dismayed Federer. He broke Roddick twice in the first set ' Roddick the best server in the tournament ' and dropped a single point on his own serve. Federer was broken in the second set, but he broke back and wiped out Roddick in the tie-break. After the rain he simply carried on as before with a classic seventh-game break and hold of serve to win.

Donít cheer. Sigh. Sigh, and then wag your head in baffled, joyful silence. This was something very special, as good a bit of sport as I have seen, and I have seen a fair bit here and there. And think of Borg and Sampras: how these people are appreciated now, but were thought of really rather dull at the time. On Centre Court Sunday, Roddick was the man who had most of the support: you can do it, Andy!

But Federer is the one who can do it. Achieve serious greatness in sporting terms, that is. And I think it would be an interesting and instructive thing if we were to appreciate him while he is actually playing. He failed to bring us a five-set nail-biter. Instead, when it came to the end of the tournament, he brought us three successive matches of incremental brilliance.

There are people who will tell you that Sunflowers is a bit of a clich' and that Hamlet is too full of quotations. The same people will tell you that Federer is boring. You can find shallowness in all things, and you can find profundity. It all depends on what kind of a person you are, or whether or not you are concentrating.

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