Image Source: CBS Sports
Tennis player Roger Federer wasn’t going to continue forever. The sand was sinking quickly to the bottom of the hourglass at age 41 and having suffered one accident after another in recent years. Great champions can even retire.
However, Federer changed the typical trajectory of a tennis player’s career, just as Serena Williams did. They kept winning awards and setting records in their fourth decades, solidifying their renown. Yet, unbelievably, they both were still alive and well in their sixth decades.
While their endurance gave us the chance to appreciate their abilities, to savor each game and year as it passed, it also gave us a false sense of security, leading us to believe they would always be around even as injuries caused extended absences in later years. They were coming back. They frequently returned.
In 2003, before the US and UK started a war in Iraq, Federer won his first of 20 grand slams. At the time, many were thrilled about the newest Nokia phone. With a 24-year professional career, Federer had established himself as a dependable figure in our lives as athletes. Federer continued to play, win, and defy time as we were all subtly and slowly growing older. He fooled us into thinking that neither the world nor we had altered all that much.
However, on Thursday, two weeks after Williams competed in what is anticipated to be her final professional match, we were forced to admit a new era had begun.
The Swiss player hadn’t participated in a competitive match since Wimbledon last year, when he suffered a third knee operation, forcing one of the most remarkable tennis careers to end prematurely.
The first person to win 20 grand slams was Federer. However, no other man has played as many (429) or won as many grand slam matches as his eight Wimbledon victories (369). He exits the sport with 103 victories, second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open Era, and more than $130 million in winnings.
Roger Federer changed the game
Roger Federer revolutionized what it meant to be a tennis genius in the men’s game during a five-year span in the early part of the century when he won 12 of the 18 major slams.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the two excellent athletes who later rose to prominence to make the previous 15 years the sport’s Golden Age, have shattered many of his notable milestones.
Djokovic has overtaken Federer’s record of 310 weeks as the top player. At this point, Djokovic has 21 major titles against Nadal’s 22.
All of Federer’s records will probably be surpassed at some point, but statistics can only capture a small portion of his brilliance. A Google search of his statistics cannot explain his grandeur or popularity. This individual has received the annual ATP Awards’ fan favorite prize for 19 years running.
Not simply because he won, but also for how he played and won, Federer is praised. He has graced a court unlike anybody other. Will we see someone like him again? Maybe, but there would be a player.
Federer’s forehand has been compared to a “huge liquid whip” by novelist David Foster Wallace in his 2006 New York Times essay “Roger Federer as a Religious Experience.”
When the piece was written, Federer was still a young man, but at the age of 25, he was already being hailed as the greatest athlete to ever live, and not only by Wallace.
Nobody anticipated Pete Sampras’ record of 14 grand slam victories to be broken six years before Wallace’s piece was published. Then came Federer, who Nadal and Djokovic eventually joined to form the “Big Three.”
Of course, others will counter that Djokovic is a superior all-around player or that Nadal has proven to be the greatest of all time.
Even while the scales of power may have moved, neither Nadal nor Djokovic possesses the same visual appeal as the Swiss.
Opinions expressed by California Gazette contributors are their own.