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Basel gives Federer a hero's welcome

Federer speaks to his fans from the balcony of Basel's town hall

(Keystone Archive)

Around 3,000 fans welcomed the triple Wimbledon champion Roger Federer on his return to Basel on Monday evening.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid also congratulated the tennis star, calling him an outstanding ambassador for both Switzerland and the world of sport.

The tennis superstar greeted the crowd from the balcony of the town hall.

Speaking later at a news conference, Federer said he was overwhelmed by the welcome.

As the reception had been arranged at the last minute, he would not have guessed that so many faces would turn up to see him.

Federer was also feted at a party organised by his Basel-based fan club and swissinfo's sister company Radio DRS3, which was attended by a number of local dignitaries.

Earlier on Monday, the Swiss president congratulated the champion by telephone.

"Switzerland is proud of you," Schmid is reported to have told Federer.

He also acknowledged the supportive role played by the sportsman's family which helped ensure his success.

Third Wimbledon title

The world number one secured his third successive title at the All England Club on Sunday, with an emphatic straight-sets win over Andy Roddick of the United States.

The 6-2 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 victory proved to be yet another masterclass in grass-court tennis from the 23-year-old Swiss, who has now won five grand-slam titles.

Federer joins Björn Borg and Pete Sampras as the only men to win three successive Wimbledon titles in the Open era.

He also extended his unbeaten record in finals to 21 since his last loss in Gstaad in 2003, as well as extending his unbeaten grass-court streak to 36 matches – just five matches short of Borg’s record of 41.

Sunday’s win also served to banish memories of his semi-final defeats at this year’s Australian and French Opens, which had led some commentators to question whether Federer’s aura of invincibility was slipping.

But the heights reached during Sunday’s final and his semi-final demolition of Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt showed that – at least on grass – Federer remains head and shoulders above his peers.

"Best ever"

The Centre Court triumph, which Federer described as his "best ever", has also prompted renewed debate about whether the Swiss has what it takes to become the greatest player of all time.

"If he stays healthy and motivated he could become the best but he has to play like he did against Andy Roddick on Sunday for the next five years," former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker told the BBC.

"The key is how he keeps his inspiration and motivation, but I believe he is in the game for the right reasons. He is not in it to chase the dollars – he is in it because he loves the game, he loves to play and he loves to win – and 20 finals unbeaten shows he relishes the big occasion."

Becker, who won Wimbledon three times, said the Swiss was now playing "against the history of the game, all the legends of the past".

"Federer is the bar and the bad news for the other players is he’s just going to get better."

And the praise doesn’t stop there. John McEnroe, another three-time former Wimbledon champion, hailed Federer as "the greatest natural talent in tennis I’ve ever seen".

McEnroe’s great rival Jimmy Connors, who won Wimbledon twice, believes the Swiss now has his eye on greatness.

"The way he plays mixing up the shots and the way he approaches match after match, he has set himself apart from the rest of the guys in the game," said Connors.

"He wants to set records, he wants people 15 years from now – 100 years from now – to look back and say during his era, he was the absolute best."

Natural talent

Writing in Britain’s Independent, tennis guru Nick Bollettieri, who has seen more than his share of tennis talent, was also drooling over the Basel player.

"Whatever we say about him cannot express the jaw-dropping, breathtaking brilliance of his play. He moves like a whisper and executes like a wrecking ball. It is simply impossible to explain how he does what he does," he said.

"He is not unbeatable – no one is ever unbeatable – but he’s as close it comes, especially on grass. He is a genius, a magician. He is an athlete of such complete mental and physical power and calm combined that he is, I believe, unique in the history of tennis."

Perhaps the last word should go to Roddick, who was outclassed by Federer in the Wimbledon final for the second year in a row. The world number four has now lost to the Swiss in nine out of their last ten meetings.

"If he keeps up this level I don’t see too many people in history who would beat him," said the 22-year-old American.

"I just hope he gets bored or something."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Federer won a season-best 11 titles last year, including the Australian and US Opens, and Wimbledon.
He has already claimed another eight in 2005, winning on three different surfaces.

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