An hour later the two teams congregated in the team's dressing room with Bob and Diana. Federer hadn't seen them since before their son had died. His teammates urged him to stay strong, but something inside him gave way, something he had been carrying for a year, and for the second time that day, Federer broke down. He went into a smaller room with Peter's parents, where they comforted him. "I'm very happy it happened," Federer says. "It was hard to lose, and [Peter's] parents came in and I got more emotional--so many emotions. But it was important for me to face it."
The morning after he won Wimbledon last year, Federer called the Carters. He still does that occasionally, telling them how often he thinks of their son during tough matches. For them his success has become a vivid reminder of their youngest child, a graceful embodiment of everything Peter knew and taught and was. "We're rooting for Roger," Bob says. "We feel part of his tennis. We feel part of his team."
Melbourne changed Roger Federer. At 22 he had the artistic temperament down--everything had to be just so, the weather perfect, his hair set, before he could perform. He was a diva. But after his fold Down Under, he got harder. In November 2003, at the Masters Cup in Houston, tournament chairman and furniture magnate Jim (Mattress Mac) McIngvale cornered Federer and blistered him for some benign remarks Federer had made about the "wavy" court and smallish stadium. Federer argued a bit but got so rattled that he had to retreat to the locker room to compose himself. He told Lundgren he couldn't play. "I'm not happy," he said. "I'm not ready."
But he shook it off. He went out before the pro-Andre crowd that night, saved two match points and beat Agassi. He dropped one set the whole week, beat longtime nemesis David Nalbandian and No. 1--ranked Andy Roddick, then weathered a 21/2-hour rain delay and Agassi again to win the year-end championship. McIngvale all but ignored him while lauding Agassi during the postmatch presentation, but Federer just smiled. He had the win, and Mattress Mac's money.
Even with his success, he wasn't satisfied. Federer dumped Lundgren within days of his win in Houston because their relationship had gotten too comfortable for comfort. He went on vacation, but two days in he called his trainer to map out his fitness program for 2004. "I realized, Roger, you have to wake up now," Federer says. "The train is leaving. You have to catch the train."
Roddick pushed him at last year's Wimbledon, but Federer adjusted and won. Wind and rain disrupted his quarterfinal match at the 2004 U.S. Open against Agassi; Federer adjusted and won. After losing seven of their previous nine meetings, Federer took Hewitt on an around-the-world clinic in 2004, beating the No. 3 player on all surfaces--in every Slam in which they met--six times in all. Federer launched their U.S. Open final with perhaps the finest set of tennis ever played, winning all but five points in an 18-minute, 6--0 blitz. A point away from 5--2 in the second set, Federer wobbled, lost serve and gave Hewitt his chance. For a moment it smelled like Davis Cup all over again. But Federer didn't get scared this time. He eased past Hewitt in the tiebreak and then carved him up again, 6--0, in the third, the first time that a U.S. Open finalist had been double-bageled. Federer made Hewitt look mystified, resigned; he took Hewitt's fight, his Hewittness, away from him. "No one had ever done that to Lleyton," says Smith.
It was, in a sense, the performance that men's tennis has been leading to, the moment when class, artistry and athleticism gathered into something close to an ideal. "We've never seen tennis like that," Hlasek says. "Nobody ever played as creatively, but it is as correct as you want to play too. He's creating every point as it should be." At the year-end championships, there was no drama: Federer beat Hewitt twice, including a straight-set yawner in the final. Mattress Mac couldn't have been nicer.
Yes, Federer knows that he can only go down from here. But he doesn't worry; he's not that young anymore. In bed at night he bangs his face into the pillow only when he wakes up cold. Then his girlfriend covers him, and he sleeps again, deep and silent, like a man without fear. In the morning he remembers none of it, not even the dreams.