She does not cut the typical figure of a tennis player's wife. She has never acted, modeled, recorded an album or worked as a game-show hostess. At 31 she is a decade older than some of her counterparts. She dislikes being photographed and has gone years without giving an interview, even to her hometown newspaper in Switzerland.
Mirka Federer (née Vavrinec) is, however, a vital—the vital—figure behind the relentless success of her husband, Roger. The de facto chief of staff of Federer, LLC, she's rarely seen without her Blackberry in hand. Three years her husband's senior, Mirka, the daughter of jewelers, has classed Roger up, introducing him to life's finer pleasures. (Goodbye, Levi Strauss; hello, Anna Wintour.) A former pro player who cracked the top 100 before her career was ruined by a chronic foot injury in 2002, she sometimes practices with Roger before his matches and is always able to talk shop. "I developed faster, grew faster with her," says Roger, who has been with Mirka since meeting her at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and married her in a small ceremony in his hometown, Basel, on April 11. "She has been with me day in and day out, throughout the world, and has helped me considerably as a person."
During the last nine years Mirka has had a front-row seat—literally—for the hottest one-man show in sports. And on Sunday, though eight months pregnant with the couple's first child, she took up her usual post in the Wimbledon players' box. With striking calm she watched as her husband played a positively epic match that included the lengthiest final set in the tournament's history. When he finally broke Andy Roddick's serve and closed out the insta-classic match 5--7, 7--6, 7--6, 3--6, 16--14, he clinched his 15th Grand Slam singles championship, eclipsing Pete Sampras's record for men's tennis.
This latest title, Federer's sixth at Wimbledon, cemented his status as the Greatest Player Ever—let's move on to a new topic, shall we?—and offered one of the most compelling plot twists in the tennis narrative. A year ago Federer lost a spellbinding Wimbledon final to Rafael Nadal. (Federer fell behind early but rallied after Mirka found him during one of the midmatch rain delays and sternly reminded him, "You are Roger Federer.") That match was seen as a coup d'état, King Roger toppled at his home court. Federer, though, returned to win the U.S. Open two months later, as well as the French Open a month ago. After Nadal pulled out of Wimbledon with a troublesome case of tendinitis in both knees, Federer suddenly was poised to reclaim his throne.
As if to alert his competitors (subjects?) and the rest of the world that he still reigned, Federer carried himself with a regal air at great odds with the modest Everyman persona he'd cultivated earlier in his career. He arrived in London via private jet, leaving a sizable carbon footprint for someone who moves so lightly on the court. While the rest of the field lodged in modest apartments and townhouses in Wimbledon village, Federer stayed in a sprawling manor a mile or so from the All England Club. He strode onto Centre Court wearing a Rolex, a Sergeant Pepper--style blazer that covered a gold-trimmed shirt and belted shorts, and gold-accented Nike shoes bearing his initials—all the while clutching a gold-and-white man purse.
King Bling's play was as lavish as his attire. For all the bells and whistles—the winners on the dead run and the impossibly angled, casually flicked half volleys—Federer's game is based on power, precision and poise. In the final he smoked 50 aces, nearly double Roddick's total. And with Sampras watching from the royal box, Federer gamely soldiered on until, after 37 unsuccessful return games, he finally cracked Roddick's serve. "He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things," says Roddick, now 2--19 lifetime against Federer. "But not a lot of the time is [it for] how many matches he kind of digs deep and toughs out."
While Roddick's eyes were moist and red-rimmed even an hour after the match, he shouldn't be demoralized. For a player who often claims he wants only "to be in the conversation," he again figures prominently when it comes to contending for major titles. Like the flamethrowing pitcher who eventually loses something on his fastball but develops a mean slider and sinker, Roddick, who will turn 27 on Aug. 30, has lately been supplementing his brute force with subtlety and variety. Under his coach of eight months, Larry Stefanki, Roddick has lost 15 pounds and improved his court positioning, net game and down-the-line backhand. He takes more calculated risks. In this, his seventh straight year in the top 10, he is playing as well as ever.
After bulling through the first five rounds of the tournament, Roddick met Andy Murray—the Scot saddled with the pressure of becoming the U.K.'s first homegrown champion in 73 years—in the semifinals. Murray, the highest seed in the Wimbledon draw behind Federer, had all but hijacked the fortnight to that point, receiving encouragement from most every prominent Brit (the Queen, Sean Connery, David Beckham) and dominating local news coverage to the point of making almost all other stories irrelevant (something about a pop superstar who died in L.A.?).
Roddick, though, put an end to the "Andy-monium," winning in four sets. Yes, he served 21 aces, but he also rallied patiently, volleyed expertly and showed clever tactics that haven't always been part of his game. When it was over, he did his part to splinter the Ugly American stereotype, applauding the disappointed crowd and mouthing, "I'm sorry."
Though Murray didn't win, he was still able to make a bit of history. For more than a century persistent rain showers at Wimbledon had delayed play, doused fans, constipated the match schedule, triggered entirely too many weather-related conversations and (perhaps most important) infuriated television executives. Finally the ladies and gents at the All England Club commissioned a retractable roof for Centre Court that debuted this year. It's an odd marriage of tradition and technology—akin to putting an IMAX screen behind the altar at St. Peter's—but somehow tasteful too.