Editorial

Roger Federer: Renaissance man

Roger Federer’s iridescent late-career renaissance continued at the Australian Open on Sunday. The Swiss maestro has now won three of the last four Grand Slam events he has entered — a success rate great champions usually achieve during their athletic prime, not in the mid-30s. Indeed, Ken Rosewall, who claimed the 1972 Australian Open at 37, is the only man older than Federer (36 years and 173 days) to have won a Major singles title in the Open Era. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Federer’s record-extending 20th Grand Slam crown was the certainty that accompanied it. Where last year’s triumph in Melbourne was startling — it was his first Major victory in nearly five years — Federer entered the second week this time as the firm favourite. His striking, well-proportioned game looked in good order. Significantly, he seemed in no trouble taking the ball impossibly early; his repurposed single-handed backhand was equal to the task. A large part of his success over the last year owes itself to this more urgent style of play, which both conserves energy and discomfits the opponent. Although rewarding, it is a method fraught with risk. It requires the full range of Federer’s genius to pull it off — in particular, his sense of timing and innate understanding of court-space. Through the fortnight, he balanced this risk-reward equation expertly, making the final without a set dropped.

 

The draw might have cleared for Federer — neither Novak Djokovic nor Rafael Nadal kept his appointment with the World No. 2 — but Marin Čilić proved a formidable adversary in the title round. The 6’6” Croat has reserves of easy power and moves well for someone his size. A Major winner himself, Čilić is no stranger to the big stage. Federer tightened up at least once during the match. He later admitted that in the fourth set his “mind was all over the place” — “I was so close and I was telling myself, ‘Don’t mess it up,’ and then that’s exactly what I did.” But the greatest of athletes find a way of silencing the voice of doubt that whispers in their ear. If anything, Federer, at this stage of his career, seems to have become better at it. He appears more adept at relaxing into the moment and seizing it: he did it to spectacular effect against Nadal in Melbourne last year, shedding the mental baggage of defeats past; Čilić has never worried Federer in a similar manner, but victory demanded a masterful calming of the nerves. It is this ability to continually refurbish and nuance all facets of his game — the physical, the mental, the tactical, and the technical — that allows Federer to outcompete and outlive much younger opponents. It is this that sets him apart, even among the pantheon of tennis’s finest.


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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 5:54:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/roger-federer-renaissance-man/article22579928.ece

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