Roger Federer’s legacy was never going to hinge on him winning a Davis Cup title. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. The accolades and accomplishments associated with his name are far too vast for the Davis Cup to alter how we think about him.
Throughout his career – and he would admit this – Federer’s victories have been primarily self-fulfilling. Whenever he’s been the last man standing at an event, he stands alone with the runner-up. As is customary, he runs through the obligatory winner’s speech, where he thanks his team, fans, and sponsors, telling everyone how much the title means to him.
Today was different. Federer wasn’t playing for himself—he was playing for his team. Above that, he was playing for Switzerland, a country that, despite having having seen an all-time great as one of their own, had never won the Davis Cup.
The Swiss love Federer. They love all that he has accomplished. They love all that he has done for the sport. They’ve celebrated his 17 Grand Slam titles. His six World Tour Finals victories. His 302 weeks as World No. 1.
But none of these achievements will be ingrained in the Swiss population as this one. This is one that they can truly feel part of.
The scenes from today hearkened back to the one we witnessed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when Federer paired with Stan Wawrinka to take the Gold medal in men’s doubles.
It must be said though, that Sunday felt far more special for the Swiss team. Their victory today was a culmination of an entire season of hard work toward the same goal. It required more matches – in singles and doubles – to finally lift the trophy. More importantly, the Swiss had fairly sizable crowd behind them in nearly every tie, except their second round against Kazakhstan.
Before the final started, we heard Federer downplay the importance of Davis Cup, saying that it isn’t “what is used to be anymore.” Yet, when he hit clinched the final point for Switzerland on Sunday, we saw him fall to his knees and burst into tears, hugging his teammates and coach, Severin Luthi. It might not be as important as it used to be, but it still meant a whole heck of a lot to Federer.
Out of pure speculation, one would not have a difficult time of arguing that Federer felt that he had a responsibility to lead his country through this Davis Cup final. A responsibility to the Swiss Davis Cup team and again, more crucially, a responsibility to the Swiss fans to give them a title that they can call their own.