Roger Federer is like Neil Young's Hurricane.
There's calm in his eyes. And, as he reaches for an improbable eighth Wimbledon title 10 years after his first, there is not a trace of vulnerability about the coolest tennis player of them all, although he has good reason to be nervous.
That is cool as in free of bone-chilling anxiety, incidentally, not as in a finger-snapping hipster. Although he is only 31 (with a birthday in August), Federer, resplendent in white monogrammed jacket over a crisp shirt with understated pastel stripes, is every inch the father of two and voice of wisdom as he speaks quietly about a sport that has been ratcheted up to levels of almost unbearable intensity in recent years.
The draw for the championships is just out and it has not been kind to him. It has pitched the defending champion into an almost certain confrontation with Rafael Nadal as early as the quarter-finals, never a comfortable scenario, even if grass is supposed to be the Spaniard's weakest surface. How weak can it be, with two titles from the All England Club in his locker? Federer knows that. He lost to him here in one of the great finals in 2008.
"We've gotten very used to just the four of us being in the top four," Federer says of his journey through the game's big tournaments alongside Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nadal – except now the player who has pushed him hardest over the past decade is returning as No5 seed to Wimbledon, where he went out in a shock defeat against the Czech player Lukas Rosol last year.
The universe has been tilted. Nadal is the super wild card. "If you want to win this type of tournament, you have to beat the best anyway," Federer says. "You don't want to hope for a good draw; you don't hope for the worst draw either. At the same time you have to feel confident enough that you can do it all. It's not an easy draw for Rafa, it's not an easy draw for me, it's not an easy draw for Andy.
"I am very much focused on my first round. If then the quarter-finals with Rafa would come along, it's great news. I'm super excited. We've had some monster matches here in the past. Three months down the road we know that Rafa is going to be in the top four. It's only a matter of time."
Except this is a different time, different deal. "I knew the longer he was not playing, the more likely it was going to happen," Federer said of his fiercest rival, who has roared back to near his best with 43 wins in 45 matches after seven months out injured. "It's at Wimbledon where you feel the biggest effect. It is what it is. He has only played nine tournaments, that are in his system and count.
"There's always surprise losses and surprise wins throughout the tournament. I've had some rough draws here in the past – [Richard] Gasquet, Tim [Henman]. Is that tougher, to have those guys early on in a first, second, third round? Or is it harder to have really difficult players in the quarters or semis? How much more dangerous is [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga than Nadal or vice versa in the quarter-finals? Or [Juan Martín] del Potro?
"They're very good right now, the top eight. It's not like five, six, seven and eight are weak. We're still talking a very high level. It was always going to be difficult to win Wimbledon. Nobody said it was going to be a walk in the park.
"Also, Ferrer ground it out extremely well [to get to No4 in the world] so we have to respect his efforts. He should enjoy the benefit of being whatever the ranking says. He has worked too hard just to take that away from him."
It is as admirable a sentiment as you would expect from the most reasonable man in tennis. But it is hard to believe he would not swap Nadal for Ferrer in the quarters. What of the gears these great players find at the end of a tournament: surely he does not want to be red-lining on the second Monday, with the possibility of a semi-final against Murray to come, then maybe a final against Djokovic – three high-level gladiatorial showdowns in a row?
As for Murray, Federer thinks the world No2 has always been a tough opponent and he will have taken heart from giving a good account of himself in last year's final, then beating the Swiss a month later to win the Olympic gold medal – not to mention repeating it over five memorable sets six months later in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
"For me Andy was always tough to play against," he says. "It happened that things went well for me [in the past]. I took the right decisions at the right times. He was playing well for a long time. The pressure of Wimbledon I always knew was going to be hard for him. I thought he was ready to win slams three years ago. He knows that and everybody knew that. He was able to tune his game and have a better mind-set and he started not to struggle against lower-ranked players any more.
"The same thing happened with Novak. That gives them the belief that they are strong when the big guys come around. Nothing really changed for me, I've always had a tough time against Andy. He's just a very good tennis player."
For Federer the big guys are coming around a little earlier this year. The conundrum is: will he turn into a hurricane or be blown away this time around?
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