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Former great Becker has so much faith in Federer
AFTER analysing Roger Federer's demolition of Australian Mark Philippoussis in the 2003 Wimbledon tennis singles final, three-time winner Boris Becker declared: "We have seen the future…it arrived today".
That was a very long 16 years ago on the outskirts of the English capital and the German great was overwhelmed by the variety of strokes the 21-year-old Swiss sensation executed in a straight sets' whitewash.
Many years have passed, numerous seasons have gone and a restricted roll call of fresh winners have come through since, but Rolex Testimonee Federer, 38 this August, is still around. And winning, and wowing the crowds.
In fact, when Federer steps on the All-England Club courts from July 1, he will set his mind on a ninth Wimbledon title, after having won eight of the 11 finals in the most prestigious, most traditional of the tennis' Grand Slams.
Becker then added: "Federer, too, is popular with the other players and with the media. He is a very sociable guy. I am convinced he will be around for a long time and I am convinced he will win many more Wimbledons, US Opens and other Grand Slam titles."
Becker then believed that Federer had an old-fashioned technique, with a versatility that is complete with heavy topspin, a serve-and-volley game accentuated with slices and drop shots. Those attributes have not changed much since although his movement has been slower with time.
Federer loves the grass surface at Wimbledon, in contradiction of what former celebrated Czech Ivan Lendl said (in a repeat of the phrase coined by Manuel Santana) that grass is for cows. Understandably Lendl said that because like Ken Rosewall and Roscoe Tanner in eras previous, he had also never won at Wimbledon.
With just days to go before the tennis Major, Federer looks down from a perch shared with his long-time rivals and former winners, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Novak Djokovic of Serbia, on a set of "younger dreamers" who see Wimbledon as a must-win goal.
When the 33-year-old Nadal ground down 25-year-old Rolex Testimonee Austrian Dominic Thiem for the second year in a row to win the French Open in Paris recently, he ensured that ownership of the past 10 Majors stayed with the "Big Three" of himself, Federer and Djokovic.
Between them they have won 53 Grand Slam events, with Federer on 20, Djokovic on 15 and Nadal on 18 after his record 12th French Open title. But Becker, who was only 17 when he sparkled at Wimbledon for the first time, 34 years ago, lamented the fact while the longevity of "The Big Three" is admirable, he is frustrated that no young star has yet broken their stranglehold on the Majors.
Looking ahead to Wimbledon, he told The Telegraph newspaper: "We are surrounded by potential teenage Grand Slam champions. In any other sport people get younger. For some reason in tennis everybody takes a lot longer to be successful.
"And that has nothing to do with forehands and backhands. I am convinced it will happen. It should happen. This would be the only sport where it didn't happen.
"I was just reading a stat that no active player outside "The Big Three" under 28, apart from Thiem and Milos Raonic, of Canada, has been in a Grand Slam final. That is not good. That is not a compliment for anybody under 28.
"And don't give me that the others are too good. We should question the quality and the attitude of everybody under 28. It just doesn't make sense.
"As much as I respect Roger, Rafa and Novak, young players should show up. Give me something I want to talk about. Eventually they (Big Three) will be too old. But you want to see the passing of the torch while they are still in their prime.
"You want to see Stefanos (Tsitsipas) and Dominic beating them when they are still very, very good."
It is significant that Nadal, Federer and Djokovic claimed three of the four semi-final slots at Roland Garros, making their presence known once more to the delight of their loyal followers, turning the French Open into another showcase for their longstanding excellence.
With 53 of the 64 Grand Slam tournaments secured by "The Big Three" only seven other players in that span have been victorious, Briton Andy Murray and Swissman Stan Wawrinka establishing themselves as the lone multiple victors in that group with three Majors apiece.
No doubt, Nadal gave himself a magnificent lift with his latest triumphant run at Roland Garros. After winning, he was asked about his plans and preparation for Wimbledon.
He spoke about the last couple of years at the shrine of the sport when he was beaten 15-13 in the fifth set by Gilles Muller in the 2017 Round of 16, and ousted 10-8 in the fifth by Djokovic in the semi-finals a year ago. Nadal believed correctly that he was only just away from the quarter-finals two years ago, and a whisker shy of the final in 2018.
There is good reason for Nadal to be very encouraged about his recent performances at Wimbledon, where he took an even more aggressive posture. He stayed up on the baseline, adjusted his return of serve positioning, and flattened out his forehand often.
Coming off French Open triumphs in both 2017 and 2018, his transition to the grass was highly impressive. He realises now that, unlike the old days, he does not need any tournament preparation on that surface.
He had recently declared that he would give the Queens tournament a miss with a preference to rest his body and limbs. But the fact remains that Nadal has not won Wimbledon since 2010, when he grabbed his second title.
Djokovic may seem deflated by his 26-match winning streak at the Majors came to an end frustratingly against Thiem in Paris. No doubt that setback came about as he was deeply troubled by playing his semi-final with the Austrian in such abysmal conditions with strong winds upsetting his rhythm, eventually losing in a five-setter.
But the Serbian sensation is not one to be cowed by one match or one tournament defeat. He will surely bounce back at Wimbledon, fully aware that he is the worthy defending champion.
As for Federer, he loves the London lawns. His game is a perfect fit for grasscourt tennis, the low bounces and his brilliant serve seen as the biggest assets and attributes for a familiar face at Wimbledon. He showed this at Halle, Germany, last week by winning for the 10th time.
And he would want to wipe off the memory of his shocking defeat by Kevin Anderson last year as defending champion. Leading two sets to love and holding a matchpoint in the third set, Federer lost the match 13-11 in the fifth set.
But what makes Wimbledon enticing this season is that all three, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal had suffered injuries over the years with issues over back and knees.
So can the young brigade take advantage and change the face of tennis on the hallowed turf at S.W.19 over the next fortnight?
Thiem has shown that he can contend with the favourites. His sequence of victories in Paris was impressive, especially his straight sets' victory over fellow Rolex Testimonee Russian Karen Khachanov (6-2, 6-4, 6-2) in the quarter-finals.
The aggressive baseline player has solid groundstrokes on both wings and a heavy forehand and single-handed tenacious backhand.
Then there is big-serving Greek talisman Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Rolex Testimonee who is in peak condition, while German Alexander Zverev worked his way into the French Open quarter-finals before bowing out to Djokovic.
The "Big Three" will also have to contend with Canadian Denis Shapovalov and Russians Rolex Testimonee Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev while Japan's Kei Nishikori and Swissman Stanislas Wawrinka, both quarter-finalists in Paris, are capable of upsets.
Former three-time Wimbledon and four-time US Open winner John McEnroe, 60, has added a teenager to that top challengers' list whom the American believes has the tools to make it.
McEnroe said: "Félix Auger-Aliassime has the attitude you need to be the best in the world", in praise of the 18-year-old Canadian who is the youngest player in the top-100 world ranking at No. 21.
Still the big odds are on the world's top three players, Djokovic (world No. 1 and seeded No. 1), Nadal (No. 2 and seeded No. 3) and Federer (No. 3 and seeded No. 2) to cash in and seal yet another Grand Slam title.