Roger Federer may be Switzerland’s sporting equivalent to the Italian masters, writes Greg Cary.

Greg Cary

Greg Cary

Sports writer

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In the Orson Welles Classic, The Third Man, the cynical Harry Lime character says Switzerland has enjoyed 500 years of peace and brotherly love and given the world what? The cuckoo clock! He was comparing their five centuries of modest output to 30 years of mayhem and bloodshed in Italy under the Borgias which yielded Da Vinci, Michalangelo and the Renaissance. It’s not Orson’s fault that he made the movie in 1949 and Roger Federer wasn’t born until 1981. The cuckoo clock now has some serious company and, whilst perhaps no match for the Sistine Chapel and the sublime David, Federer has given the world the sporting equivalent of those masterpieces.

Indeed the great artists would find much to inspire in the fluid grace, controlled power and athletic beauty of the Swiss genius. Watching Federer since his first Wimbledon win 10 years and 17 grand slam titles ago has been one of the joys of following sport. It can be argued as to whom was the greatest of them all and Laver, McEnroe, Borg and Sampras would all have their supporters. It’s true that, on any given day, each could beat the other but, at their very best, my money would be on Roger. ‘ Rafa’, since he leads him 23-10, might disagree.

Of course, as Federer concedes, the game he took to a new level was made possible by the stylistic changes Rocket Rod introduced with his variety of shots and controlled topspin. What might he have done with the new rackets? I’m sure he asks himself the same question.

True, Rod won the Grand Slam twice, but it’s not to diminish that unique achievement to say it was achieved in an era when the gene pool was confined to fewer nations and the depth was but a shadow of what it is now.

About Roger there has always been an easy grace. On court and off. That he can play the shots he does is one thing; that he can do it whilst making it look all so matter of fact is another entirely. Yet, it’s what the very best always do.

When Federer arrived in Australia there was the usual talk suggesting the end was nigh. I guess if you keep saying it you will one day be right. There were similar comments after Lleyton beat him in Brisbane but the push was stilled somewhat at The Australian Open where he played some of his best tennis. Memories of Mark Twain came to mind: reports of my death are somewhat exaggerated. In the twilight of his career the master was good enough to beat Andy Murray convincingly in the quarter final before Nadal, again, proved his nemesis in the semi.

Why is it that so many are in such a hurry to hasten champions into retirement? Nothing annoys more than the argument that they should leave us with images of them at their best. Those upon whom the sports gods have smiled create memories that endure always.

So it is that Orson Welles was to cinema what Roger Federer has been to tennis. Beauty, talent and genius are as eternal as they are universal. They know no home. Unlike the cuckoo clock.