Roger Federer, a man whose genius transcends eras, an inspiration who takes on stalwarts half his age and a tennis player whose finesse redefined the sport.
And yet, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And in sports, as in life, the end is not always pretty. It is at the end that even the greatest champions become prone to follies of mere mortals.
The end wasn’t pretty for Agassi, who had beads of sweat and a shaking racket as he battled and lost against a plethora of unknown players during his swan song days. It wasn’t pretty for Ronaldinho, who had lost all his magical dribbling in his final days. It wasn’t pretty for Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, who had to be hobbled to the finish line by his teammates in his last race.
Yes, that is how it ends. With a fear of failure, with doubts in abilities, with an end in belief. And it makes us wonder if that is the fate that awaits the Swiss maestro or does he have one final flourish left in his arsenal.
“Federer is finished:”-
Ever since Federer’s defeat to his nemesis, Nadal in 2008’s Wimbledon’s final, the chants of “Federer is finished” have been more frequent than Cristiano Ronaldo goals.
Be it 2011’s Djokovic’s rise to break the Fedal duopoly or Federer’s 2015’s subsequent losses in finals of Wimbledon and US open at the hands of Djoker or the much more grave forebodings following his nightmarish 2016 season, Federer’s doubters have been extremely vocal only to be silenced by the exquisite genius of this maestro.
And while, his unparalleled records and artistry with the racket has mesmerized an entire generation, what really cemented his legacy as the GOAT was his incredible comeback in 2017. After sitting out the second half of 2016 in order to shake off lingering injury concerns, the 39-year-old’s comeback heralded one of the most remarkable seasons of his storied career: 54 wins, just five defeats, and seven titles – all in the year he turned 36.
So, Federer is no stranger to comebacks.
And yet, yet, the chants seem much louder this time, and the voices of his legion of fans much more subdued.
Recipe for another fairytale or a brutal exit on the cards?
“Roger is Roger, the sport needs him”. This was Djokovic’s reply when probed about his views on Federer’s recent knee injury. Djokovic’s statement remains the popular choice in the tennis arena with Roger remaining the game’s biggest draw even in the twilight of his career. And yet the question remains whether he can uphold himself to the brilliant niche he has crafted for himself.
The Australian open SF seemed like a testament to the fact that Federer can no longer compete with a much fitter Djokovic in a best of five match. It has been nearly eight years since Federer last beat Djokovic in a Grandslam.
And while losing to a fully fit Djoker is by no means something to be ashamed of, the fact remains that had Federer even faced someone like Thiem, he would have lost. With Djokovic and, to a lesser extent, Nadal not showing any signs of stopping and, a continuously improving NextGen on the doors, things do look grim for our beloved Swiss.
Federer has already declared that he won’t be a part of competitive tennis this year and if all remains well then he would return to Melbourne for one last time come January. However, his most genuine chance for a grand slam remains the Wimbledon, where he would be eyeing a ninth title win.
Another fact which might motivate Federer to bounce back from injury is the fact that it’s an Olympic year and he might want to add one final feather in his cap before he bids adieu-the one which has been quintessentially missing -an Olympic gold.
There is also this “small” matter of who emerges as the greatest player in this golden generation of tennis with Federer remaining the popular choice but with Djokovic, at 17 slams and Nadal, with 19 slams, hot on his heels, the debate seems far from over.
All of this assuming that Roger Federer, at the age of 40 remains relevant and competitive enough to take on 2 other GOAT contenders, who are both half a decade younger than him.
Federer’s Final Flourish-
But again- Roger is Roger. If anyone can do it, it’s him. And if he can, then no matter how many French opens Nadal wins or how perfect of a display Djokovic puts on in the subsequent slams, everything will pale in comparison to the brilliance and greatness of that one season, the season in which a 40-year-old Federer marched on relentlessly against some of the best players of all time.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) June 10, 2020
He definitely still has the weapons to do it and bar a fully fit Djokovic and a Nadal on clay, not much remains between a Federer at 40 and the top accolades of tennis. The fact that Federer is 6-1 up against Nadal in the last 7 meetings further strengthens the argument that number 21 for the Swiss is just around the corner.
Federer did come agonizingly close( actually 2 match points close) to achieving his 9th Wimbledon title last August and while the result may not have been in his favor, the belief that he can outplay Djokovic in a best of 5 match did come to the fore.
Legacy of this legend-
The day Roger Federer retires would surely be an end of an era but more than that it would be the end of tennis for an entire generation which he mesmerized with his slices, with his serve, with his tricks. In an age characterized by Sharapova’s high shrieks and Nadal’s loud grunts, Federer’s silence rang the loudest. Let’s hope that we get to see the magician with his wand a few more times before he bids adieu to a game whose face he became. His retirement is surely going to create a void that none can fill. After all, Roger is Roger, who can replace him.