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Despite loss to Murray, silver medal meaningful for Federer in London

WIMBLEDON, England -- Funny, the man on Centre Court with the red shirt and the white Swiss cross looked exactly like Roger Federer. But in Sunday's gold-medal match, he played like an imposter, like Mr. Bean had taken over his body in the same way Rowan Atkinson slipped into the Chariots of Fire scene during the opening ceremony.

This false Federer -- over the past decade, the real one has turned Centre Court into his personal patch of grass -- barely put up a fight. He fell 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 to a dominant Andy Murray, a result that delighted the fans in the stadium, the mass of humanity outside on Mt. Murray and the population of Great Britain.

But they still love Federer here. And because Federer has such a reputation for graciousness and goodwill, there was immediate speculation that perhaps he deliberately didn't compete hard against Britain's hero -- whom he had beaten here last month in the Wimbledon final.

That's a ridiculous concept. Federer was playing in his fourth Olympics and has said several times how much he would love to win the singles gold medal.

Still, he made it clear he wasn't distraught with his silver medal.

"For me, it's been a great month," Federer said. "I won Wimbledon, became the world No. 1 again and I got silver. Don't feel too bad for me."

The crowd greeted Federer the way it always does here: with deep respect and great affection. He received loud cheers when he won points early. But as Murray's momentum grew, and the chants of "Andy, Andy, Andy" filled the building, Centre Court stopped being Federer's comfort spot. He lost nine straight games at one point.

"Thanks for reminding me," he said, the second time it was mentioned.

Of course, this isn't the same Wimbledon as the place where Federer has won seven Grand Slam finals. At Wimbledon, members of the All England Club fill the stands and are muted and refined in their behavior. Olympic tickets were open to the public.

"Different," Federer said of this week's feel at Wimbledon. "Maybe more patriotic."

"Obviously, once the match started, I knew it was going to be a good crowd for Andy. But that's not why I lost. Credit him for getting the lead and then using the crowd to his advantage to come through."

While Murray contributed to the host's mounting medal count -- as Team Great Britain rides the palpable passion and patriotism in the crowds -- Federer earned his country's second medal. He described himself as emotional throughout the nine-day tournament, fighting through a tough opening match against Colombia's Alejandro Falla and surviving an epic semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro.

Federer said the Del Potro match drained him more emotionally than physically.

"Maybe there was so much emotion already out of me that potentially today that kind of hindered me from playing my absolute very best," he said. "God, I had tears in my eyes after my first-round match, believe it or not. I almost broke down. This is how much this meant to me -- I understood how close I was to losing."

There's a lot of talk about how tennis doesn't belong in the Olympics because the tournament isn't the pinnacle of the sport. But for the athletes who participate, and have a chance to represent their country rather than just themselves, it means a lot. Spain's Rafael Nadal expressed the same emotions when he won the gold medal in Beijing.

"The Olympics don't come around every year," Federer said. "Every Olympics has been a life-changer for me. I love watching sports because of the reactions of the people at the very end. How do they take wins? How do they take losses? For me, I've always been drawn to the Olympic spirit."

At Federer's first Olympics, in Sydney in 2000, he met his wife, Mirka, who was also on the Swiss team. In Beijing, he was stunned in the singles quarterfinals by James Blake but came back with his partner, Stanislas Wawrinka, and won a gold in doubles. After that victory, Federer celebrated by unleashing a dance that we've never seen after a Grand Slam final.

So, yes, the Olympics are important to him. The 30-year-old isn't ruling out Rio in 2016.

"It's not impossible that I could take part in Rio," he said. "I could retire and come back. It's that long of a break."

Maybe the Olympics aren't tennis' most important event. But they motivate athletes who have accomplished everything else their sport offers.

"It's not always about points and rankings and money," Federer said before the Games began. "What's important is the dream of representing our country."

And, in that regard, a silver medal on Centre Court is no joke.

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