It’s authoritatively held that no athlete, no matter how gifted, can resist the summons of Father Time. But you wouldn’t have known it from watching the 126th edition of The Championships at Wimbledon, the oldest and greatest tennis tournament on earth. Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the gentlemen’s and ladies’ singles champions, are only 30. But in the world of sport, it’s an age at which every error is seen as evidence of dimming eyes, slowing reflexes, and flagging muscles. Federer’s drought at the majors since he won the Australian Open in 2010 had led to questions of whether he would ever win another. With first Rafael Nadal and then Novak Djokovic establishing their dominance, it seemed as if Federer’s time had passed. But champions are written off at great risk, especially the greatest of them, for they have mental, physical, and indeed spiritual reserves that others don’t know and can’t comprehend. At times of distress in the tournament, Federer — and Serena — inexplicably raised their games. They managed to evade the conscious mind, with its doubts, its fears, its disastrous tendency to take control, and relaxed instead into instinct, honed and finessed over a lifetime.
Federer, in extending his record tally of majors to 17 and equalling Pete Sampras and Willie Renshaw’s seven Wimbledon titles, raised himself to the top of contemporary men’s tennis, to World No.1. This wasn’t the victory of a great champion past his prime, exploding one last time into brilliance — like Sampras at the U.S. Open in 2002. This was the victory of a great champion who was so consistent even when not at his best — a final, five semifinals, and three quarterfinals in the nine majors Nadal and Djokovic shared — that it was inevitable that he would soon succeed. He said after the final that he had grown more aware of “how easy it was to miss” — he was reluctant to “pull the trigger” on brilliant shots as frequently as he used to; he now played the percentages more. But against Djokovic and Andy Murray, Federer’s aggressive play was reminiscent of the period between 2004 and 2007 when he won 11 Grand Slam titles. He mined the extremes of his genius, and found sustained quality at all the right moments. Murray played a brave, tactically smart final. He might have lost, but the manner in which he handled the suffocating pressure of being Britain’s Great Hope and pushed Federer to the limit showed that a Grand Slam title can’t elude him forever. Serena is no stranger to majors, having collected 14 of them. Her return to a high level after last year’s life-threatening medical complications was further proof of her exceptional resolve. With both Federer and Serena announcing they will continue chasing Grand Slams for the foreseeable future, tennis, in interesting times already, just got more compelling.