Croaky and hung over, Roger Federer could barely recall where he had been as he celebrated until dawn, but he was soon smiling as that familiar warm feeling of waking up as Wimbledon champion seeped back into his mind on Monday morning.
After his surprise win in the Australian Open at the start of the year Federer said he had “partied like a rock star”, and he was at it again following his record eighth Wimbledon triumph on Sunday that took his career grand slam tally to 19.
Sitting proudly reunited with his favourite trophy back at a near-deserted Wimbledon, Federer told reporters: “My head’s ringing, I don’t know what I did last night. I drank too many different types of drinks I guess.
“After the ball we went to, I guess it was a bar, with 30 or 40 friends and had a great time. I got to bed about five and woke up not feeling too good.”
He started to feel better as he thought back to his straight sets dismissal of Marin Cilic, along with the realisation that a few weeks short of his 36th birthday, having had six months out of the game to recover his fitness, he was still able to produce tennis of a quality nobody else in the game can match.
Asked if he was now targeting a 20th slam, or perhaps 10 Wimbledon titles, Federer said he had learned from his six months out not to look too far ahead.
“The target now is to enjoy being Wimbledon champion,” he said. “I haven’t set a sight on a number of grand slams; I was very content at 17, that was a wonderful number. So was 18, and now 19 is great.
“I think now it’s about enjoying myself, staying healthy and playing for titles.”
Federer’s eighth Wimbledon triumph was his most emphatic yet — he is the first player since Bjorn Bjorg in 1976 to do it without the loss of a set.
That he was able to do that, and win the Australian Open in January, and that Rafa Nadal could take his 10th French title last month, has re-ignited the debate about the dearth of challengers to the sport’s “big four”.
Federer said he felt the current complicated points system did not adequately reward some of the younger players for their occasional successes against the big guns on the regular Tour and that it was consequently difficult for them to put together the consistent run of upsets necessary to climb the ladder.
However, he also said some of them needed to show a bit more ambition if they wanted to break the status quo. Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic have between them taken all the men’s singles titles at Wimbledon since 2003.
“It’s frightening to me at this level that when I look at the stats that the guy I’m going to face has played two percent serve and volley points in the championship,” Federer said.
“I wish we would see more players, more coaches, taking chances at the net because good things do happen.
“A slugfest from the baseline with Andy Murray, Niko Djokovic or Rafa? Good luck if you are 50th in the world. The young guys could choose not to play that way, but you can be sucked into a mode where you don’t want to attack.
“Since mine and Rafa’s generation the next one hasn’t been strong enough to push all of us out really.” he said. “So that’s helpful for us to be able to keep hanging around.”
Switzerland’s Roger Federer arrives with his trophy at the Champions Dinner in central London on Sunday. (AFP)
The Team Sky rider leads Italian Fabio Aru, who appears to be running out of gas, by 18 seconds, and French daredevil Romain Bardet by 23, with Colombian dark horse Rigoberto Uran in fourth place, 29 seconds off the pace.
Ireland’s Dan Martin is fifth 1:12 behind, and Froome’s own team mate Mikel Landa of Spain, who has been in ominously good form, lies sixth 1:17 off the pace.
Bardet believes Thursday’s mountain-top finish at the Col d’Izoard, 2,360 metres above sea level, will be key.
“I think that with the two consecutive stages in the Alps and the finish in altitude, there could be big gaps,” said Bardet, Froome’s runner-up last year.
The AG2R-La Mondiale leader has ridden very aggressively, and although alliances are a bit of a fantasy, Uran could possibly join him in trying to overthrow Froome, as the Colombian is something of an all-in type of rider.
“For me, if we risk everything and it ends up in fifth place because we rolled the dice and it went the wrong way, c’est la vie,” his Cannondale-Drapac team manager Jonathan Vaughters said.
“A front against Froome? Have you seen any kind of front against Froome since the start? For now it looks pretty ominous because nobody takes initiatives, and Froome has such an armada with him that they are tough to unsettle,” Bardet said.
While Bardet and Aru could well lose around a minute to Froome in Saturday’s 22-km solo effort in Marseille, Uran fares better riding against the clock.
“Uran is more of the dark horse who slips under the radar but he is the strongest time-trialist of the group of riders (challenging me),” said Froome, who believes he timed his peak of form well.
“I am feeling better and better as the race goes on. I came in really fresh, I hope that means going into the third week that is going to put me in better shape than some of my rivals,” the 32-year-old said.
Froome can also rely on the support of the strongest team in the field — a fact which often frustrates his rivals.
“Their strength is that they have three or four potential (team) leaders. Sometimes it can be discouraging,” said Bardet.
That strength could also be Sky’s weakness, however, as Landa may fancy his own chances after some impressively smooth rides in the mountains.
“He’s the X-factor,” said Vaughters.
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