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It would be gloriously fitting if Roger Federer retires as world No 1 holding three Grand Slams

It would be gloriously fitting if Federer retires as world No 1 holding three Grand Slams

17/07/2017 at 10:32Updated 18/07/2017 at 07:24

Roger Federer has not only earned the right to call himself the Greatest Of All Time, he has also earned the right to go out at the very top of the sport. Which could yet be this year, writes Desmond Kane.

WIMBLEDON'S 140TH YEAR CELEBRATED SPORT'S GREATEST PLAYER

  • Roger Federer won a record eighth Wimbledon title on Sunday at the age of 35
  • His 6-3 6-1 6-4 victory over Marin Cilic was his 19th Grand Slam confirming his position as the greatest tennis player in the history of the sport
  • When he lost to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals of Wimbledon last year, he spent six months out recovering from a knee injury
  • He passes the record of Pete Sampras and William Renshaw, who both won seven times at SW19
  • Federer turns 36 next month as the oldest winner of the Challenge Cup since tennis turned professional in 1968
  • Federer emulates Bjorn Borg's achievement in 1976 as the only men in the Open era to win Wimbledon without shedding a set
  • The Swiss has refused to confirm whether he will be back to defend the title

FEDERER 'HOPES' TO DEFEND TITLE

"I hope that I'm back, but there's never a guarantee, especially not at 35. "

Roger Federer does not play tennis, he performs it. There is something spiritual about Federer's controlled, menacing but unassuming gait that goes beyond the accepted norms of professional sport. A tennis titan, his name is greater than the sport that made him. Not bad for a boy from Basel who once struggled to control his temperament.

Both brutal and beautiful in its single-minded execution, his return to the game's summit will go down as a quite remarkable tale; one in fuller bloom in the autumn of his career than the traditional purple and green flower scheme of the very traditional English summer.

Before this year, Federer last won a major at Wimbledon in 2012.

After emerging victorious at the Australian Open in January, Federer decided to avoid the all-consuming clay-court season to focus on grass and the hard courts of North America later in the year.

Like his shot selection, and a vision that is more precise than Hawkeye, it has been one of the smartest decisions in his long and gilded career that began its march to prominence when he made off with Junior Wimbledon in 1998.

Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates victory with the trophy after the Gentlemen's Singles final against Marin Cilic of Croatia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon.

Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates victory with the trophy after the Gentlemen's Singles final against Marin Cilic of Croatia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon.Eurosport

"I guess you would have laughed if I told you I was going to win two slams this year," he said. "I also didn't believe that I was going to win two.

"But, it's incredible. I don't know how much longer it's going to last... But I have just got to always remind myself that health comes first at this point. If I do that, maybe things are actually possible I didn't think were. To make history here at Wimbledon really means a lot to me just because of all of that really. It's that simple."

TWO HUGE TARGETS: WORLD NUMBER ONE AND US OPEN

Federer is rapidly closing in on Andy Murray as world number one. The Scot appears to have paid the price for going to the wire to reach the sport's summit last November in his two-man jostle with Novak Djokovic, who has also been blighted by inconsistency and injury.

Both men are faded and jaded, and both were injured in departing the tournament at the quarter-final stage.

Federer, up to three in the rankings, could be world number one as soon as next month, and could enter the US Open in late August at the top of the rankings. It is a complicated system, but Federer has no points to defend in the second half of 2017 raising the prospect of a return to the summit for the first time since December 2012 when he was 31.

He is only 1,205 points behind Murray before the British number one plays Montreal and Cincinnati prior to Flushing Meadows. It looks to be a straight battle between Federer and Rafael Nadal for the top position.

Nadal, a champion in Monaco, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris this year, is world number two and has 370 points to defend having ended his season due to injury last October while Murray is defending 5,460 points after carrying off the last five events of 2016.

The world number one ranking is probably not the main objective, but if Federer keeps winning tournaments, he is going to reach that destination whether or not he craves it. Federer has won 31 out of 33 matches this season lifting trophies in Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, Halle and Wimbledon.

The direction of travel is obvious.

LEGACY AND RETIRING ON YOUR OWN TERMS

There is a real theatre to everything that envelopes Federer.

If you tried to make up his career, you couldn't. What other multi-millionaire sportsman could return from serious injury and six months away from such an agonising pursuit to lift the Australian Open being ranked world number 17 then Wimbledon watched by two sets of twins and an adoring wife, family and coaching team? What other sportsman would find the motivation?

If he wins a sixth US Open in September, he will hold three out of the four Grand Slams, a feat he first managed in his early 20s in 2004 and last time a decade ago in 2007. He last held two of the majors in 2009. Success at Flushing Meadows would also see him pass the record US Open hauls of Sampras and Jimmy Connors, who have lifted five majors in New York. A force, more than a freak, of nature.

Roger Federer waves to fans at Wimbledon.

Roger Federer waves to fans at Wimbledon.Eurosport

He could contest the World Tour finals in London in November aware that his future is in his own hands.

Of course, there is every chance he will return for another season because as he suggested this morning he loves playing tennis and has managed to develop a schedule that works for him with clay courts probably a thing of the past in the death throes of his career.

"The target is to enjoy being Wimbledon champion for a year and Australian Open champion," said Federer on Monday morning. "I haven't set sights on a number of grand slams that I have to or want to achieve. I never really had that.

"I was very content at 17 I must tell you so of course I was going to be happier at 18 and I'm even happier at 19. I think for me it's really about enjoying myself, staying healthy and then we'll see what happens."

But there must be the temptation to think that the circle is complete.

Or else he might think: there are more worlds to be conquered, and more Grand Slams out there to be won at the age of 36? He has nothing left to prove in a race that is only against himself.

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With Federer it is wise to expect the unexpected. Which is why retirement, or going on for another one, two or three seasons cannot be discounted. Hitting 36, he has no right to be competing at such an elite level never mind dominating the sport. He could play until he is 40 in theory, but winning titles and playing in tournaments is a different sort of undertaking as he discussed in the aftermath of dismantling poor Cilic.

After he lost the 2014 Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic, and announced his season was over after losing to Raonic in the semi-finals of Wimbledon a year ago amid a losing battle with a dodgy knee, this writer remained convinced Federer would add to his 17 Grand Slams simply because of his unrivalled ability.

Yet it remains as difficult to read his next move, as his serve. You can imagine broadcasters the world over salivating over the prospect of recruiting the world's most marketable athlete to their team of informed pundits.

One suspects a losing habit is not something he would like to develop. But it is probably too late in his career to even witness that. He can't turn back the years when the years haven't caught up with him. There will be no marked decline. There is no time for that. He will retire at the very least inside the world's top 16.

It would be entirely fitting for perhaps the greatest sporting career of the lot if a figure of such tennis tranquility departed the hectic scene at the very top.

Watched by thespians such as Bradley Cooper and Hugh Grant on Centre Court on Sunday, Federer is the main protagonist who has earned the right to call time on his career when he sees fit.

He has fulfilled the old axiom in show business: always leave them wanting more.

Desmond Kane

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