Age is the enemy of professional sport, more than that, it is a symptom of modern society that for a narrow minded few, age defines what you can do and achieve. At 34 and despite losing yet another major final to Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer seems to defy all presumptions; timeless in his craft he continues to evolve not just himself, but the game of tennis.
Professional sports men and women feel the burden of time more than most. Besides the obvious physical deterioration, coping mentally with the idea that you might be ‘past it’ can be an equally tough pill to swallow.
Yet for the exceptional few it has the opposite effect. In football, Ryan Giggs was still gliding across the pitch until the age of 40, Andrea Pirlo, l’architetto is still dictating games at the age of 36. Both have utilised every ounce of experience, both have strict off the field regimes that has moulded them into icons of the modern game.
This is exactly what Federer has done with tennis. He has played with a freedom that has delivered him 5 singles titles and two major runner-up medals in 2015, 12 years since winning his first Wimbledon title and cementing his place as world number two in the era of big hitters.
Okay, it might not have been enough to overcome world number one Djokovic, but The Swiss Maestro’s path to his first US Open final in six years was faultless. Dropping just two service games as he seamlessly glided across the court, sauntering past opponents with experience and effortless precision, dismantling the hard hitting Stan Wawrinka in the semi-final with embarrassing ease.
Part of what makes this achievable for Federer is a new found aggression. This is no better encapsulated in his new attack coined the ‘SABR’ (Sneak attack by Roger). Controversial and not always effective, he will rush forward returning his opponents serve almost inside the service line. It is the audacity of the move that catches the attention, the freedom, the confidence the ‘past master’ is still defining the game today.
Of course the key factor surrounding Federer’s resurgence to the top of the game is his rampant serve. His mightiest weapon, it keeps the point short and suffocates the opponent in a relentless fashion. This wasn’t enough to get through elasta-man himself Novak, as the game’s best returner nullified Federer’s biggest asset, a trend that is becoming all too familiar to Roger.
It was a similar story just three months ago in the leafy province of SW19. After sweeping past Andy Murray in four sets in the semi-final, Federer came up against the man that has proved to be the thorn in his side all year. Once again, the hard head of Djokovic proving too much for the ageless Roger to overcome in a grand slam final.
Since that Wimbledon final RFed had won every single match without dropping a single set on route to the US Open final, defeating Djokovic to win the Cincinnati Masters trophy in the process. A remarkable achievement for any player.
Roger’s longevity in the game is something to savor and even more significant when you consider the demise of his greatest rival, Rafael Nadal. He and Rafa went at it hammer and tongs for four years, brute force versus understated elegance, the King of Clay versus the King of Everywhere Else, but Nadal’s struggle with the game is a testament to Federer’s attitude.
Federer has adapted where Nadal has ground his way through championships, his knee’s taking the punishment of his matador like performances. The Swiss has a remarkable injury record, the saying ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ speaks volumes when the two are side by side, it’s Federer’s aptitude between the ears that sets him apart from even the world number one.
It’s revealing that the losing finalist at this year’s US Open endeared himself to the New York crowd even more. The biggest cheer of the night seemed to come when Federer told excited spectators he will see them next year. That we can count on, for rest assured the great man will be adding to his record haul of 17 major titles as he continues to pioneer the game of tennis.