Des Kelly: Federer’s a winner for taking defeat like a man, my son

Last updated at 9:57 PM on 07th July 2008

For as long as I can remember people have been talking about moral victories. At Wimbledon, we finally saw one.

When their epic struggle ended late into the night, the real story of the contest was not about how an irresistible Rafa Nadal had finally usurped and stolen his Wimbledon throne.

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Roger Federer

Gracious: Roger Federer showed us how to lose with dignity and poise

It was not about records, or points, service speeds or rankings. It was not about television viewing figures or prize money, although all the numbers were undeniably impressive.

The lasting significance of the men's final was that it provided us a reminder of what sportsmanship, in the truest sense of the word, really looked like.

And in that context, nobody would dare consider Roger Federer a loser.

Amid the most excruciatingly painful setback of his illustrious career, and even as the young tyro who had humiliated him at the French Open was busy scooping up the golden Wimbledon trophy he had regarded as his own, Federer somehow stood in the strobe-like explosions of the flashbulbs and maintained his dignity and his poise.

He pulled a tight-lipped smile as he posed with the runners-up plate and graciously paid tribute to his victorious rival without a hint of a choke.

The cameras zoomed in, ready to catch a quiver of the lip, or a quisling tear escaping down his cheek in self pity, but it never happened.

Federer remained immaculate in his jaw-jutting composure. He was a Rudyard Kipling poem in tennis shoes.

He met triumph and disaster and treated the two imposters just the same. He was a man, my son.

His tears of regret, anger and disappointment were saved for the sanctity of the dressing room and a private release. There was none of the sobbing and snivelling on the grass that now distinguishes the aftermath of every significant football match. Federer was a champion, even in defeat.

Nadal's behaviour was equally superb. He celebrated with respect; and in his finest hour remained disarmingly humble, capping a sporting contest that lived up to every expectation of excellence, both on and off the field of conflict.

Team sports have their magnanimous moments; when Bobby Moore and Pele embraced at the 1970 World Cup, or when Andrew Flintoff stooped to console Brett Lee at the end of an thrilling second Ashes Test linger in the memory.

But tennis at its finest provides us with one of the few opportunities to see sportsmen and women pitted one against one in a gladiatorial contest. There is no hiding place, no team to help cloak your failings with anonymity. It is an examination of character. It is boxing without the blows and gore.

And both Federer and Nadal passed their test with distinction, proving what tremendous ambassadors they are for their profession.

Naturally, people were scrambling to anoint it the best final ever. It is a close call, but for me that accolade still resides with the Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe duel of 1980, with its 22-minute tie-break, contrasting styles and incredible array of shots that stretched the boundaries of geometry.

Today's tennis is undeniably faster and more powerful, but the subtlety and guile of that lost era remains unsurpassed.

One illuminating piece of computer graphic analysis from the BBC team demonstrated how Wimbledon's grass had become more like a hard court surface in recent years, slowing the ball slightly and improving the height of the bounce, factors that had allowed the baseliner Nadal to flourish a little more easily in SW19 than he might have done in the past without a volley in his armoury.

But it could sound unsporting to dwell on it here, so let us recognise instead the achievement of both men and remember a victory that was honest, virtuous and decent; a moral for our times, no less, with two winners and two champions.

Why joke is wearing thin for Andy

Let me return to the topic of and this whole anti-English argument for what I truly hope is the last time - although I doubt it.

Some of the nonsensical criticism Britain's No 1 has received is laced with such misplaced venom and outrage that it makes me despair.

So, for the hard of thinking, let me state here that: I did the interview with Andy Murray and Tim Henman a couple of years back where Murray talked about 'supporting whoever England were playing against'.

It was a clearly a sarcastic remark. He was responding to teasing from your columnist about Scotland's absence from the 2006 World Cup and derisive laughter from the mischievous Henman.

It was reported in that context in this newspaper at the time and the exchange was run as a transcript.

A couple of days later a red-top got excited about the comments, lifted a couple of them into a 'story' that took on a life of its own and from there the truth was lost.

It is astonishing how this has run and run.

An extremely talented columnist pal of mine declared unequivocally the other day that: 'I don't think his remarks about England were a joke. There are some people who just don't like the English and I believe in my marrow that Murray is one of them.'

Based on what?

I did the interview - and it was a joke, as I have said before. And what marrows have to do with it I don't know, but it is certainly time to call a halt when vegetables like David Mellor pop up on the Today programme to lecture Murray about how to wave a Union Flag.

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Andy Murray

Can't win: Andy Murray

Murray has been variously decried as 'disgusting' and 'yobbish' for doing nothing more than show a bit of Celtic fire during a fabulous comeback by people who clearly have no understanding of the excitement sport generates.

They are the same Phillipa Space types who used to accuse Henman of lacking passion.

The critics also ignore the fact that Murray has improved greatly at Wimbledon this year and is Britain's best and only hope of success for years to come.

He doesn't drink, behaves himself off court, has a steady girlfriend, a fine family and has just moved back into the world's top 10. Something to be proud of, I'd say.

As for this England v Scotland thing, personally, after some of the twaddle I've read this past fortnight from 'patriotic' Brits, I wouldn't hold it against him if he decided to become German.

Oh, if Bin Ladens could bin Barton

The family of Osama Bin Laden has made a bid to buy Newcastle United. Now wouldn't it be a delicious irony if the deal went through - and then the Bin Ladens sacked Joey Barton for his violent past?

Everyone at St James' Park seems intent on making excuses for the reprobate Barton right now in the hope of clawing back some of the transfer fee.

The former boss responsible for the horribly misjudged deal has joined the fray.

Sam Allardyce insists: 'Barton is a complete football man. His life revolves around it.'

Really?

How does that square with 5am visits to McDonalds, drunken disorder, training ground assaults and violent street fights?

In the course of the last year, Barton has scored one goal for Newcastle and appeared in court on three occasions.

The 'complete football man', obviously.

A spanking good line

Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone announced he called off his feud with Max Mosley, the FIA president who clung on to his job after a sordid sex scandal.

'The bottom line is simple, we have moved to patch up our differences,' said Ecclestone.

Oh Bernie. When you are talking about Spanking Max these days you cannot use the phrase 'bottom line'. That's what caused all the troubles in the first place.

It's potty, Chambers

Apparently Dwain Chambers' apologists say he 'deserves' to be at the Olympics because he knows what drug cheats do and he has owned up to his crimes.

Excellent logic. I don't know why we didn't think of the poacher-turned-gamekeeper tactic before.

Let's put train robber Ronnie Biggs in charge of Securicor, allow jewel thief Darius Guppy to run the Fraud Squad and ask Cherie Blair, the wife of the last Prime Minster, to investigate why the country has gone to the dogs during the course of the last decade. Oh, hang on. She is?

Back heels and high heels

Russian Andrei Arshavin is keen on a move to Arsenal and he believes it will improve his education.

According to reports, he sees London as a hotbed of learning and - and I quote - 'values his education sufficiently to have completed a university diploma in fashion design'.

He might be excellent on the ball, but I don't think Arsene Wenger is looking for another girl's blouse, do you?

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Lisa Raymond

First service... and second... and third: Lisa Raymond


Lighten up, Lisa

It has been a bad year for women's tennis and when compared to the men's game, the quality was thin. If only we could say the same about some of the players.

This may sound cruel but the sight of the, er, very sturdy Lisa Raymond in the women's doubles final suggests the ladies' game still has some to go before it is overburdened with professional athletes.

Having won more than £3.5million in her career, Raymond is obviously able to hit a ball.

The trouble is, she is obviously able to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet, too.

Women might be on equal pay with the men at Wimbledon but the truth is, pound for pound, they are not delivering the same value for money. Not unless you weigh them.

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