The All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), which hosts the Wimbledon tennis championships each year, goes out of its way to foster a Corinthian spirit among its competitors. Despite being the prestigious professional tennis event on the calendar, Wimbledon requires pros to wear the same-color clothing (white), places a limit on the size of endorsement patches on said clothing, bans corporate branding on the club’s grounds and asks players to walk to and from the same locker room as a pair, regardless of who wins or loses.
But even by its own standards, the AELTC would have been shocked to hear Roger Federer—the most successful professional tennis player of all time—telling reporters that his quarterfinal match against Frenchmen Jo-Wilfred Tsonga was so finely contested that the Swiss superstar actually enjoyed losing.
“It was good tennis,” Federer, the tournament’s third seed, said after he was upset 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 4-6, 4-6 by the 12th-seeded Tsonga. “You know, I really enjoyed it. It was unfortunately at the at the end I wasn’t able to come out of it.”
Federer, who was gunning to equal American Pete Sampras’ record of 7 Wimbledon titles, praised Tsonga’s bold, offensive style, saying that the 26-year-old Frenchmen took “huge cuts at the ball.”
“It took him sort of a special performance to beat me, which is somewhat nice,” Federer said.
Early on, however, it was Federer who controlled the play, going up two sets to love, a position from which he had never lost a match in his Grand Slam career. Asked if his level dropped of in the final three sets, Federer insisted it was Tsonga who raised his game, and that proved the crucial difference. “It was a great match from both sides,” Federer added. “To talk bad about this match would be unfortunate, I think.”
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Tsonga agreed, saying after the match the “I was just perfect today. [It] felt like a dream. I was not scared on big points.” On those crucial points, Tsonga added, his attitude was simple: “Just I have to hit the ball; I hit the ball, and that’s it.”
Tsonga’s power-hitting, coupled with extraordinary athleticism, has helped him achieve upsets before. In 2008, he beat Rafael Nadal in the semi-final of the Australian Open, only to lose to Serbian Novak Djokavic in the final. On Friday, Tsonga gets a rematch, as Djokavic beat Australian teenager Bernard Tomic in another quarter-final to set up the clash.
As for Federer, now in the twilight of his career, he said that his motivation now comes not from chasing records (he holds arguably the most important: the most grand slam singles victories) but in taking enjoyment from his job. “I’m happy. I’m healthy. Even though I took a tough loss today, I don’t feel discouraged in any way. I think that’s key right now, to not let anything get to me.”
The tough talk of a champion that is not. But it’s a sentiment of which the old gentlemen and ladies the All-England Lawn Tennis Club would heartily approve.
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