VILLENEUVE D?ASCQ, France ? It looked like an ending, with the confetti floating down and a record crowd watching Roger Federer and his Swiss teammates celebrate for the first time with the big, bright and shiny Davis Cup.
It is not the end, of course. Federer might be 33 years old; might have a tricky back, though there was no visible evidence of that on Sunday; and might now have won almost ? almost ? everything a tennis champion could ever care to win.
But he is intent on continuing to work as a master craftsman, testing his skills and his staying power against younger, less decorated tennis talents. He is already signed up to play in India next month in a new Asian team tennis league and in Brisbane, Australia, in the first week of the 2015 season.
He is one of the most remarkable sports figures of any era, and on Sunday, he walked loose-limbed onto the indoor red clay and smoothly secured the final point required to make Switzerland the 14th nation to win the Davis Cup.
Federer?s 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Richard Gasquet, which gave the Swiss an insurmountable 3-1 advantage over France, looked like business as usual unless you remembered seeing Federer practicing tentatively in the chill on the same court on Wednesday night, three days after withdrawing from the final of the year-end ATP Tour championships with a back problem.
?I mean, he played 20 minutes on Wednesday without making one slide,? said Claudio Mezzadri, the former Swiss Davis Cup captain. ?He served, like, 50 percent power and played no points.?
But Federer?s powers of recuperation and adaptation are already well established, and after struggling and losing in a hurry on Friday against Gaël Monfils, he had the bite back in his strokes for Saturday?s doubles victory with Stan Wawrinka. Federer then kicked into something resembling his highest gear on Sunday, never facing a break point against Gasquet and mixing full-force forehand winners with the feathery backhand drop shot winner that he conjured on match point.
Even before the ball bounced twice, he was dropping to his knees, and he then pitched forward onto the clay ? all alone with the moment ? until Switzerland?s captain, Severin Lüthi, arrived to start the party.
Federer was soon teary-eyed ? once a routine occurrence after big matches, but now a rare sight.
?For me, personally, I?m obviously unbelievably happy,? Federer said. ?I?ve been playing in this competition for probably 15 years now, but in the end, I wanted it more for the guys, for Severin and Stan and the staff and everybody involved. This is one for the boys.?
It is also another exhibit in the still-open case concerning Federer?s precise place in tennis history. He already has a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles and has already been ranked No. 1 for a record 302 weeks. He has already won an Olympic gold medal in doubles with Wawrinka and shown a remarkable degree of consistency and durability at the highest level.
Now he has been part of winning the game?s top team trophy as well, and thus joins many of the game?s greatest champions past ? Bill Tilden, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras ? and present ? Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic ? on the list of Davis Cup champions.
?I always said that it was very good for Federer to win the Davis Cup and very good for Davis Cup to have Federer?s name engraved on it,? said Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the International Tennis Federation, which organizes the Cup. ?To me, it is magic. And today, though people who are not really following tennis might think Gasquet did not play a good match, I think Gasquet played a very good match. But Federer was so focused. He played like a great champion and didn?t give away anything.?
Federer first played in the Davis Cup in 1999, when he was 17 and Mezzadri was the captain.
?He had never played best-of-five sets before, but he was totally relaxed,? Mezzadri said. ?And when he came off the court, he was telling me all the feelings he experienced on the court: ?This is what it?s like to hear 3,000 or 4,000 people cheering,? things like that. It was like he was recording it all in his mind and then playing it back for me.?
Federer was a Davis Cup regular in his early years and led Switzerland to the 2003 semifinals, where he blew a two-set, 5-3 lead in the decisive match to Lleyton Hewitt of Australia. But in recent years, with Federer focused on individual goals and often available only for relegation matches, Wawrinka has carried the biggest load for Switzerland, using precious energy to play in the competition, whose rounds are usually scheduled a week after Grand Slam events or other top-line tournaments.
This year, Wawrinka, with help from his Swedish coach, Magnus Norman, has taken his game to another level, winning his first Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open and finishing the year at No. 4. And it was he, not Federer, who set the tone for the Swiss team in this final with his cocksure victory over the French No. 1, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, in Friday?s opening singles match.
?I?ve been dreaming of this Davis Cup for years,? Wawrinka said. ?I?ve been trying everything I can to win this competition. This year, maybe, was the ideal year. It started off very well in Serbia. It ends up perfectly well here in France. We made many sacrifices during the years to be able to win it. We did it now. We are very happy.?
Very happy indeed, as reflected by the giddy atmosphere in their post-victory news conference.
?We had a good time since match point,? said Federer, who later deflected a question about next year?s Davis Cup plans to Wawrinka, saying to his teammate, ?You speak better French than me.?
Wawrinka?s answer: ?Not when I?m drunk.?
Tipsy or not, it was a sharp contrast with the somber, defensive mood in the French camp as team members filed in to speak with the news media. France had provided a dramatic stage for this final in Pierre Mauroy Stadium, a converted soccer arena, which set a record for a sanctioned tennis match with Friday?s crowd of 27,432 and then broke that record on Sunday with a crowd of 27,448.
But the French hopes of engineering an upset to match the grand setting foundered when Tsonga was unable to play in Saturday?s doubles or in Sunday?s singles matches and was replaced by Gasquet.
After denying that Tsonga was unable to play because of injury, the French captain, Arnaud Clement, acknowledged on Sunday night that Tsonga had aggravated an existing injury in his right arm, feeling fresh pain after the loss to Wawrinka.
?I was just not able to go on the court and be the best chance on the court,? said Tsonga, who, because of a knee injury, also missed the 2010 Davis Cup final, in which France lost to Serbia.
A healthy Tsonga might not have mattered this time in light of Federer?s quick recovery and Wawrinka?s state of grace, but it was still a turnabout from Wednesday night, when Federer still looked unlikely to be effective and there was still ample speculation about the potential fallout from the feisty semifinal in London between Federer and Wawrinka.
?Many things were written about me and Roger, Roger?s back,? Wawrinka said. ?And for the French team, it was, ?Everything is great,? and they were ready to go to war, if I can use their own words. What happened was totally the opposite.?
It made for quite an ending to the 2014 season, even if there is plenty more tennis to come from Federer and Wawrinka.