Roger Federer joked that he feels “incredibly sexy” as he prepares to defend his Wimbledon crown and renew a rivalry which is the tennis equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi.
The footballing megastars have exited their World Cup but Wimbledon would love to see Federer joust with Rafael Nadal at the conclusion of the SW19 fortnight and conjure up a repeat of the greatest five-setter there’s ever been.
It’s the tenth anniversary of that solid-gold classic, four hours and 48 minutes and 9-7 to the Spanish bull in the fifth. Federer, who had been aiming for six titles in a row, regained the famous pot the following year and here he is, a month away from his 37th birthday, opening the tournament today as the defending champion. In a press conference yesterday, the suave Swiss was tossed possibly the tamest question ever heard at the All-England Club – indeed, it wasn’t a question at all. “You look even more handsome than last year,” his would-be interrogator said. “Okay thank you,” came the reply. “I feel great, I feel red,” The Fed continued. “Incredibly sexy.”
Did Federer accept the Ronaldo-Messi comparison with Nadal? “Sure, yeah,” he continued. “They have a long-standing rivalry; I have the same with Rafa. They’re very different from one another and I guess there’s some similarities as well. As similar as we are, Rafa and myself, we’re very different on many levels.
“I’ve never met [Ronaldo and Messi] but obviously in football it’s different because you’re only as good as your team. The pitch is huge, with 11 guys running about. With us we’re a little more in control, let’s be honest. I hope I can control [play] a bit better than they could. We’ll see how it goes.”
If it goes brilliantly to plan, Federer will claim his ninth title. His “prep” has been the same as last year, missing the clay court season altogether. While others, including ultimate French Open champ Nadal, were scrabbling around in the red stuff, Federer enjoyed “vacation, family time, practice, fitness, tennis – everything worked very well”.
Practice included sessions with three Scottish juniors, among them Aidan McHugh. “They’re all really nice people, I like the Scottish,” Federer said. “I love hitting with juniors because it’s exciting for me – and for them usually. It’s a good vibe.” Federer, who’d previously played a match against McHugh in Glasgow, was impressed with his sparring partner. “I liked what I saw and I wish him well.”
For Federer, who starts today against Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, that 2008 epic had been “heartbreak”. Because the final ended in defeat he’d tried to forget it.