Older Roger Federer is better than old Federer – and set to end GOAT debate once and for all
Roger Federer will chase a 20th Grand Slam title on Sunday, but astonishingly there seems to be more out there for him at the age of 36, writes Desmond Kane.
He has been nicknamed the Professor, but looks more like a student.
In one hour and two minutes of a brutal tennis tutorial on Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, the poor unfortunate, ailing and perhaps unsuspecting world number 58 Chung Hyeon, sporting his trademark swish pair of spectacles, resembled an expectant undergrad who has just flunked his finals.
In the semi-finals of the season’s first Grand Slam, 21-year-old have-a-go-hero Chung was given a serious schooling by professional sport’s true professor, a specialist from Switzerland with a doctorate in drop shots and a fellowship in forehand top spin.
It could have been described as an Australia Day massacre, but then that would suggest some sort of sporting warfare had occurred when what we witnessed was merely a tranquil quashing of a nation’s sporting dreams.
Tennis fans react as they watch a screen showing South Korea's Chung Hyeon loose to Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men's semi-final match of the Melbourne Open tennis tournament, in Seoul on January 26, 2018.Eurosport
South Korean supporters, certainly those from Chung's home city of Suwon, had hoped their boy could emulate his performances that gazumped Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev to venture where no South Korean had been before.
They were left feeling colder than Pyeongchang during next month's Winter Olympics. The game was up after 33 minutes of tennis utopia.
This was not merely man against boy, but boy against a winning machine. Another timely reminder that when we witness Federer, we pay witness to a sporting phenomenon than none of us will see again in our lifetime.
Youth is wasted on the young. At age of 36, Federer is ready to make good on his late promise.
Vintage Federer is playing better in 2018, than well, Federer of the noughties when he stacked up 15 of his majors by 2009. His game bites with more menace than the Australian brown snake.
Federer is performing at a higher level than when he won his first Wimbledon in 2003 at the age of 23.
Australia's 1987 Wimbledon winner Pat Cash said that the old Federer would beat the old Federer in four sets.
Well, the older Federer had plenty to leave a kid 15 years his juniors looking decrepit. It is fascinating to see the jolly Roger in the supposed death throes of his career perform with as much desire, hunger and purpose than his younger self.
As he gets down with the kids, time has not hindered his gait nor his ambition.
Chung could not stop the bleeding from his young feet as blisters finally called time on his hopes when he was trailing 6-1 and 5-2 after only an hour of play, but it was the bleeding from his service games that provided as much anguish as winning only 19 out of 51 rallies from deep.
With his glasses providing clear vision, he could not see have seen the truth any clearer if he had been using binoculars.
If Chung had been in this match at any time, he would have played through the pain barrier. It is a moot point, but the feeling of hopelessness that seeped from his racket was matched by the hurt that emanated from his bunions.
His brain was frazzled by Federer’s pace and versatility as much as his feet were by the blisters.
Why subject your feet to any more grief when the outcome is as predictable as hearing the country's national anthem, The Voice by John Farnham, ring out on Australian Day. Ned Kelly is less popular in Victoria than the folk hero Federer.
Here was another step on Federer’s ongoing sojourn to be recalled as his sport’s greatest of all time as he secured a meeting with Marin Cilic on Sunday in what will be his 30th appearance in a Grand Slam final over the past 15 years.
Unless there is a vast change in the narrative, Federer should have too much movement for a man who has defeated him once - in the 2014 US Open semi-finals - in their previous nine matches.
If Federer wins on Sunday, he not only wins a 20th major: he probably puts to be bed the GOAT debate once and for all.
With his nearest foe the 16-times Slam winner Nadal limping uncertainly out of this tournament, Novak Djokovic fighting tennis elbow and Andy Murray needing a new hip, Federer seems to be the last man standing of a big four that has come apart at the seams.
One wonders if Nadal's former coach Uncle Toni Nadal caught these goings on back in Mallorca.
Uncle Toni predicted Nadal could win another four to surpass Federer, but that looks forlorn. Federer should get to 20 when Nadal sits on 16. He will be four ahead again before the French Open in June, a tournament where Nadal could cut the gap back to three.
But with the stresses and strains of time and his knees, it will be a huge ask. Nadal winning another four Grand Slams from his career beyond the age of 32 is as believable as Federer extracting only another one.
There are pressing targets. There is every chance Federer will relieve Nadal of the number one ranking next month as he bids to equal Djokovic and Roy Emerson's haul of six Australian titles.
Federe waves to the fans in Melbourne.Eurosport
He could catch Serena Williams as the winner of 23 Grand Slams in the open era while the chance to usurp Ken Rosewell as oldest winner of a Grand Slam will first come at next year's Australian Open providing his limbs and ambition hold up.
Federer's Rolex watch not only tells time, it tells history.
The final declaration seems some way off when Federer seems to be in the first flush of youthfulness.
It is a heady brew of magic and menace that provides further scope for Federer to revel in more riches from a sport he transcends.
An excruciatingly single-minded game where others are years and light years behind him.