Can Roger Federer Touch Greatness One Last Time?
We’ve all been here before. And we’ve all been wrong before.
Roger Federer is out of the Australian Open after losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece on Sunday, and once again his career obituaries are being written.
You’d think we’d learn.
Every Federer defeat in recent years has been accompanied by predictions of his demise. More often than not, it’s also followed by a sharp reminder of why he is the greatest tennis player of all time.
Between 2003 and 2012 his dominance of tennis was almost total, producing an astonishing 17 Grand Slam triumphs; seven Wimbledon titles, five US Opens, four Australian Opens and a solitary win at Roland Garros.
Then the Grand Slam titles dried up. In his 30s, a contended family man, it seemed the endless hunger to compete he had shown throughout his career might just be fading.
How wrong we were.
In 2017, five years after his last Grand Slam title, Federer rolled back the years to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon and re-enter the world’s top 10 rankings. Last year he retained his title in Melbourne to complete a revival that would in itself constitute a remarkable career for a mere mortal.
Federer’s late career revival, and indeed incredible longevity, is a product of fitness and planning.
Having topped the ATP rankings for 310 weeks, he no longer has an obsession to be the world’s No1 player. Been there, done that.
No, the Swiss legend has in recent years been playing less and less tennis, preserving his now 37-year-old body for the things that matter to him: the Grand Slams.
And every time he’s been written off, he has risen to the occasion like only he could, an achievement made even more impressive that he has done so as contemporary of three other tennis greats in Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Sadly, there is only so many times he can prove us wrong, and the day when he cannot anymore draws nearer and nearer.
That day will be sad one for many reasons.
We could be witnessing the end of one of tennis’s greatest eras; the age of the “Big Four” of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
The feeling that a new dawn for tennis is approaching is reinforced by the emergence of the likes of Federer’s conqueror Tsitsipas, German sensation Alexander Zverev and Denis Shapovalov of Canada.
Federer has already announced that he will be playing in the 2019 French Open after a two-year absence. The clay courts of Paris have been the least productive of all the Grand Slams for him, and having won his one title there in 2009, it is highly unlikely he will add to his 20 majors there.
Whether there will be one last, glorious encore at Wimbledon or the US Open in 2019 remains to be seen. More likely we could be looking at the curtain call for arguably the greatest sportsman of all time.
Or, like so many times before, he might make fools of us yet again.