There are many sportsmen and women who have influenced me. As a sportslover, I have got a huge amount of respect for all professional athletes and there are too many to mention who have impacted and inspired me.
Michael Johnson’s breathtaking 200m in Atlanta and dominance of the 400m kept me hooked on athletics, not to mention the javelin throwing of Jan Zelezny and Steve Backley.
Alan Shearer led the charge for Blackburn Rovers before the likes of Damien Duff, Matt Jansen and Tugay kept me interested (how far away from those days we are.)
Va’iga Tuigamala, Jason Robinson and Frano Botica’s stunning rugby league skills bought Wigan Warriors a place in my heart.
Roger Federer though, almost exclusively for tennis, is right up there.
I wasn’t bothered about tennis growing up.
My Dad is vehemently against it and that passed onto me for many years. I hated how Wimbledon would kick The Simpsons off BBC Two for two weeks at 6pm every summer. I was not very good at it either, always playing second fiddle to my friend Rick and feeling frustrated.
Until that is, Tim Henman’s brief flirtation with fame, piqued my interest in the sport back in 2001 and I suddenly started watching. As his flame flickered and died as quickly as it emerged, my enthusiasm would have gone the same way if not for the emergence of a wonderfully-skilled, free-flowing Swiss superstar whose dominance of the sport was virtually total.
When Federer beat Philippousis in 2003 at Wimbledon, he was the new kid on the block but the big-serving Aussie had no answer to Federer’s sheer range of shots, unbelievable consistency and potent winners.
He would win Wimbledon for the next five years on the trot.
From that point on, I was hooked. Federer’s aura, grace and magical tennis ability showed me how skilful the sport was and how, when played well, it was a thing of beauty.
Gritty Scotsman, Andy Murray, turned up in 2005, giving the big boys a fright but never really operating with the vibrant and god-given talent that Federer always seemed to have.
Same for Rafael Nadal. What an absolute warrior. I remember missing most of the epic 2008 Wimbledon final as we went to church but when we came back the light was fading and he and Federer were still at it, fighting to the death to secure the title.
Nadal has always been characterised as the street fighter – the dog of war in comparison to Federer’s sophisticated aristocratic approach to tennis. And he’s always seemed to find a way to disrupt Federer’s rhythm and win the games that really mattered. Maybe that’s why he holds a 23-11 head-to-head record over Federer. I remember a particularly crushing French Open final victory where Nadal flexed his muscles and brushed aside his Swiss rival, despite Federer being on top form heading into the encounter.
As a result, since about 2010 my steadfast support for Federer has suffered far more lean times than successes. His last Grand Slam was Wimbledon in 2012, when he beat Murray in the final and I was one of many in Britain who were delighted even though the home player had lost.
Similarly, in 2015 when he rolled back the years and tore Murray apart in the Wimbledon semi-final and at the O2 World Finals, I was just in awe of his ability and delighted to see him performing at his best.
And yet, with Novak Djokovic in the way, he couldn’t add to his haul of titles.
The very real threat remains tomorrow that Nadal will again relegate the erstwhile winner to second place and close the gap on the all-time Grand Slam title list to just two.
It never looked possible even two weeks ago but with the “Flashback Final” firmly happening, I’m holding out desperately for a Federer win.
It would surely underline his status as the all-time greatest ever tennis player. Which, in my view, he most certainly is.