Roger and out: Wimbledon 2012

July 11, 2012

By Toby Melville

After two weeks of rainy, cold and windy tennis, somehow kept on schedule courtesy of early starts, late finishes and a much used Centre Court roof, the traditional tournament highlight of the Men’s Singles Final took place on Sunday.

For the first time in 75 years a Briton would contest the match. The only obstacle in Scot Andy Murray’s path to glory was the huge boulder in the shape of sixteen grand slam winner and six time Wimbledon victor, Switzerland’s Roger Federer.

I was lucky enough to have my name pulled out of the hat for the East Pit photographer’s position at ground level, with Reuters colleague Dylan Martinez shooting the game from one end, near the coaches, and where players often react to provide strong images.

SLIDESHOW: BEST OF WIMBLEDON

Despite this being Murray’s best chance at a Slam after three previous dismal performances in Grand Slam finals, I already had a sense of foreboding after our top London-based Swiss tennis shooter Stefan Wermuth – fellow countryman of Roger Federer – had NOT had his name pulled out of the draw between the three Reuters shooters for the two photo positions. Small retribution for this bad luck would at least be if Federer blew Murray away…I should have guessed!

Prime Ministers (David Cameron), Princesses (Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William) and Performers (The Beckhams) – none necessarily known as tennis aficionados – found prime spots in the Royal Box on centre court, such was the British appetite for a home-grown (-ish!) winner…

The usual photographic demands of mid-match strong action, cleanly composed, was complicated by keeping a constant eye over the left shoulder at the Royal Box, continually scanning the stands for other big name guests in the crowd (where WAS Rupert Murdoch?!), and being alert for coaches and wives / partner’s reactions behind… where did those extra pair of eyes, arms and cameras go to?!

And despite all that, almost always only match point player reaction and the ‘pot shot’ would publish extensively. And success in that would be down in part to complete luck of where a player would fall, leap or collapse at the instant of winning – behind the net, obscured by a ballboy, or back to camera being as likely a scenario as in front of camera. Unfortunately, there was no chance of having six photographers to cover nearly every conceivable angle as happened in Melbourne for the Australian Open tennis finals.

So, back to Murray, the Scot shot out of the blocks with all guns firing. He took the first set 6-4, and at 4-4 in the second set had 2 break points to get a sniff at a two set advantage. Federer was playing well but making unforced errors. By his own standards he was a little under par. However, rarely does Fed look harassed or stretched on court. He’s a perfectionist, a truly graceful player and a man with years of experience in dealing with pressure at the very highest level of sporting competition. This makes him the truly formidable opponent and great sportsman he is. Perversely, give me Djokovic, Nadal or Murray to photograph any day of the week! They career all over the court, throw themselves around, grunt, groan, shout, celebrate, and contort their faces when missing shots. Fed, the cool Swiss, does none of these, and hits the ball with his ground strokes so low to the floor that making strong image shapes is frankly a right royal pain in the backside!

Murray missed his chances to break Federer’s serve again in the second set. Federer sniffed an opportunity and clawed his way back to one set all. Game on! Rarely does the Federer-al Express look back once he has muscled his way back into a game. A rain break and enforced 30 minute break in play and both players returned to court seemingly different characters. Federer’s mistakes vanished, Murray rattled by his own missed chances, huffed and puffed during each rally.

He was no longer the composed practitioner of the first set. Picture wise, this made life easier – Murray reacted, chased balls all over the court, slipping sliding and cursing along the way. Storywise, for the British Press the great tale was ebbing away. But for Reuters this was of no consequence – internationally, a seventh success for Federer would be a great story regardless. And thus it proved to be.

Murray’s fantastic start ran out of steam. Federer seized the third set and romped towards another famous Slam story closing out the fourth set with another break of Murray’s serve. So the great British success was not to be. The partisan crowd was left partially disappointed, but all were appreciative of Roger’s sublime skill and longevity at the top and returning to number one in the world. Murray cried in court during his post-match TV interview, in turn gaining, not losing, fans by publicly displaying his emotions. My view of this was blocked, I was unable to shoot Murray’s partner Kim, also in tears, and we were not permitted to turn around and shoot the members of the Royal Box reacting, but Federer’s match celebration was unblocked and his interaction with Murray at trophy presentation time was fine – so I didn’t lose too much sleep over missed pictures on Sunday night – this time!

Murray claimed in his post-match press conference he would return stronger and vowed to aim for Olympic gold in a month’s time at Wimbledon. But so did another player say his next (and only unclaimed major trophy) target would be Olympic men’s tennis gold: Roger Federer. Be warned, Mr Murray!

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