Rejuvenated Roger Federer 2.0 can stay on top until he is 4.0
With the news that Roger Federer will play on into 2022, we revisit an article from 2017 by Eurosport's Desmond Kane on how the imperious Roger Federer is rewriting the narrative on what can be achieved in his sport.
Roger Federer poses in front of the Miami skyline.
For Roger Federer in full bloom, tennis suddenly looks like child’s play.
Ahead of the 2016 Australian Open, Federer, aged 34 and without a Grand Slam since Wimbledon five years ago, was quick to pick up on the words of wisdom from his twins, Myla and Charlene, who watched him limber up for his seemingly doomed and dated attempt to win an 18th major.
They told me I should play on the lines. They think that’s a good thing. I was like, ‘OK, I’ll try that.'
Out of the mouths of babes, and all that jazz. Yet from small acorns, mighty oaks grow. And this spring in sport, there is no mightier oak than the Basle metronomist. A good thing has become great.
Certainly for anyone with an interest in sport, the possibilities are delicious. An unquenchable desire has allowed the human spirit and body to endure quite gloriously in the form of Federer's fabulous commitment to his art. When Federer wins, professional sport wins.
Perhaps it would be too simplistic to claim Federer’s outrageous, outlandish and unthinkable success is partly due to the thought process of his kids, but there has been a notable difference in the Swiss player’s hunger to "play on the lines".
It sounds easy, but Federer is arguably the only man with the ability to pick and choose his moments. He can because he was born for his calling in life.
Roger Federer of Switzerland poses for a champion's portrait with the Butch Buchholz Trophy in front of the Miami skyline after his match against Rafael Nadal of Spain (not pictured) in the men's singles championship of the 2017 Miami Open at Crandon Park
Image credit: Eurosport
There is a real elevated air of aggression adorning his play that has enabled him to defeat Rafael Nadal on four straight occasions, three times on his way to winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami on Sunday night, the three loftiest tournaments of the year so far. And we are barely out of March with Federer on the march.
He unloaded 18 winners to nine by Nadal in winning the first set 6-3 in Miami, including 12 forehand strikes that never came back over the net.
In snagging the second set 6-4, he hit 11 more outright winners and ended the match enjoying 19 forehand winners to Nadal’s eight.
Much has been made of Federer's ability to go for big points on the remodelled backhand side when he thumps the ball early like there is no tomorrow, - "Hit the backhand, damn it! Don't fall back and slice all the time," says his father Robert - but the real story of Miami is that Federer’s forehand is also flourishing at arguably a greater level of reliability than ever.
It gives him an air of authority on both wings, and a dominance that he has perhaps never attained before.
The serve is arriving with greater predictability than time. Yet time has been kind to a 35-year-old who has turned his tennis into a form of ballet dancing when most sluggers around him resemble punch-drunk pugilists. Two of them, Murray and Novak Djokovic, were down and out before Miami, hindered by the inevitable impact of the weekly grind due to elbow damage.
Unwittingly, Federer’s form also throws up a conundrum for Nadal that he has never confronted before: how do you cope with the greatest player in history playing his greatest tennis? He probably thought such a prospect was long gone, but there it is waltzing around in front of him sporting the gilded trademark Nike headband more like a crown these days.
Consider this: before they got together on an indoor court in Basel last October, Federer last enjoyed a win over his nemesis in the semi-final of Indian Wells in 2012. He no longer has the Indian sign over him.
Nadal and the usual suspects will have the next two months to consider such a proposition because there is every chance it will rear its head when the pesky Federer re-emerges for the French Open in Paris at the end of May, the grass court season, Wimbledon, those north American hardcourts and the US Open in September.
Federer is not entering cold storage because there is every chance he will escape to Dubai for a spot of warm weather relaxation and preparation.
The former American professional Brad Gilbert, coach to icons such as Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Alex Bogdanović, has described Federer as part of a sporting “Mount Rushmore along with Michael Jordan and Tom Brady”.
I’ve been watching Roger since 1998 and in my humble opinion he is playing better tennis than at any point in his career. He’s been forced to get better and he’s had to raise his backhand and return of serve. He’s playing more complete tennis.
For 2017, we have Roger Federer 2.0, some sort of upgrade on the old version who was scraped off WImbledon's Centre Court last summer after losing in five sets to Milos Raonic, seemingly bowed, beaten and destined for retirement due to a knee injury that saw him miss the final six months of 2016.
Or perhaps it is Fed 3.0 or 4.0? Nobody quite knows because when you have been carrying off titles at the very elite level of tennis as habitually as getting out of your bed, the idea of a simple reboot goes out the window.
Federer’s career has encountered several phases of triumph and turbulence ranging from winning the Wimbledon junior final in 1998 and losing the US Open junior final to David Nalbandian, who has retired at the age of 35, the world number one phase encountering a run of 302 weeks, the 17 Grand Slams and the hunger years of failing to win a major between September 2012 until January 2017.
And suddenly this reawakening after all looked lost with an 18th Grand Slam realised in Australia and the 91st title of his career packed away in his racket bag as he departs Miami.
What started out as a hopeful sojourn to Melbourne in January has brought real meaning to Federer’s legacy in April. He is up to four in the world from 17, he is back at the heart of the matter before he turns 36 in August.
There’s method in his madness, but suddenly the image of the Swiss accurist recreating a fresh emollient to pursue his dream as if he is in the first flush of youth no longer looks mad. On the contrary, it all looks very normal.
He will not seek out the number one, but he might inherit it. If he wins Wimbledon or the US Open, or both, he will end up number one without the need for clay sculpting.
Letting the younger dirtballers savage each other for the next few months might be no bad thing. At the age of 35, Federer’s policy to pick-and-choose may even be wiser than the advice he received from his kids.
The real aim for Federer is putting more space between himself and Nadal in the Grand Slam debate. Nadal on 14 might never get to 18, but he will never get to 19.
Becoming the oldest winner of a Grand Slam ahead of 37-year-old Ken Rosewall at the 1972 Australian Open is a viable goal.
Being the first man to compete purposefully at the age of 40 since Jimmy Connors, then 39, reached the last four of the US Open in 1991 will all waft across Federer's mind as he contemplates serious buzzing life chances in the death throes of his career.
I ask myself, how happy am I to be leaving home? Because it'd be so nice to stay. So am I happy to pack my bags, and walk out the door, and put them in the car, and get in the car, look to the house and say, Okay, let's do this—am I happy in that moment? Or do I wish I could stay longer? Every time it's been: I'm happy to go. I'm still doing the right thing in my heart. It's a test. If that moment comes and I'm like, ‘Hmm…' I've heard other players say the same thing.
"A friend went to the airport and turned around - he couldn't go play that tournament; he needed to see his family. That's probably the end of a career.”
The end is not nigh. There is no sign of decline or self-doubt. At a time when most tennis players are raging against the dying of the light, Federer is burning brighter than Miami’s South Beach.
To boldly go where no tennis player has gone before. There are other worlds yet to be conquered in his new tennis orbit.