Forever young: on Roger Federer's longevity

At almost 36, Roger Federer is clearly still not done with the Majors

Updated - December 03, 2021 12:41 pm IST

Published - July 18, 2017 12:02 am IST

Wimbledon’s greatest illusion is the sense of timelessness it evokes. Over the past fortnight on its hallowed lawns, one of its finest champions managed to pull off a similar impression. At 35 years and 342 days, Roger Federer became the oldest man to win the singles title in the Open Era — a full 14 years after he first claimed the title as a scruffy, ponytailed upstart. Sunday’s triumph continued a dominant, magical 2017 for the maestro, something no one saw coming. When he limped off Centre Court with a knee injury last year, beaten in the semi-finals by Milos Raonic, the future had looked bleak. But two far-sighted decisions have proven life-altering. Federer opted to take six months off to undergo surgery and regain his health. Then, after winning the Australian Open , he skipped Roland-Garros , a choice someone who lives for the Majors doesn’t make lightly. He reasoned that his body needed to be spared the exertions of a grinding clay-court season so he could arrive in London ready for an uncompromising tilt at a record eighth title. Once he had survived the opening week, a tricky period during which the tournament isn’t won but is often lost, the astuteness of his judgment become apparent.

For, the second week witnessed the range of a rested Federer’s genius. Against Grigor Dimitrov, whose style he has influenced, he was opportunistic, secure in the knowledge that he had too much game for the Bulgarian. Federer saved his most exquisite tennis for the quarter-finals, where he neutralised Raonic’s heavy artillery with cunning finesse. The match offered a measure of his progress since the defeat 12 months back: he looked stronger and sturdier than the haggard figure he had cut at the last Championships, playing with a joie de vivre reminiscent of his younger days. He did not hit the same heights against Tomas Berdych in the semi-finals; he had to draw instead from his reserves of resilience. In the final, he was the cold-blooded closer. Here was the iron fist in a velvet glove, as an injured Marin Čilić was permitted no sympathy. Through the two weeks, Federer’s versatile serve held firm — he was broken just four times en route to a 19th Grand Slam triumph. His balletic movement stayed on point. The switch to a more powerful racquet has clearly helped, as have a recast backhand and an increased willingness to force the pace. He often landed the first strike, an ability grass privileges. And when he didn’t, he was able to make the precise adjustments in footwork and arm-flow that grass’ sometimes quirky bounce forces on a player. His is a method that has aged well. Given that it isn’t reliant on explosive athleticism or muscular ball-striking, both vulnerable to decay, there is cause to believe that Federer will continue to enchant for a while longer. It does not appear as though he is done winning Majors.

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