Roger Federer - The Expection
On this occasion, and a few before it, I have found myself questioning whether I am greater a fan of tennis, the sport itself, or of this one player. Admittedly, and perhaps pathetically, I always concede to the latter. Tennis existed before Federer, and it will exist after, but while we are in this rare and all engrossing ‘during Federer’ part, I will cling to it with all I can.
12 months ago, I witnessed Federer’s second round of exit from Wimbledon at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky. At the time, I saw it as the greatest shock to ever devastate sports, something which clawed against every grain in history, an impossibility. It was numbing, and still is. But that is not the focus here, Federer’s 2013 season is mentioned here for the purpose of perspective only.
Because the thing is, the time after that loss was when I first found myself facing two conflicting resolves. I would either give in and accept that the inevitable was happening, age is normal human process, and with that it would be time for me to rest on Federer’s laurels and enjoy the magic left. And the other side saw myself relentlessly pushing back, saying there are a million and one reasons he will fight on. That was in 2013, and I battled with that indecision for the better part of the rest of that season, and never really settled on a position. Fast-forward to the present, and I realise I don’t have to.
The complete reason being: Federer’s ‘ageing’ is not normal; we all suspected it, and silently agreed to it at some point, but yesterday he showed us. By this point, he has every cause to enter that inevitable stage, but he refuses. Every moment of his career has appeared to be an anomaly, and this part, whatever you want to call it - not that you can define the undefinable - is no exception.
I have spent what feels like an age, consumed by Roger Federer, and every minute has been entirely devastating and captivating all at once. Yesterday was perhaps the toughest grand slam loss I have felt. The match itself? Extraordinary, one which could have every superlative under the sun thrown at it, and they still would not do it justice. Which, aptly, is exactly what makes the pain all the more unbearable. But however agonising, something else overshadows it.
Yesterday’s fourth set, where Federer - against every thing that simply should have been - came back from a 2-5 deficit was a rocking chair moment, one which I will etch in my memory with the hope that I will never forget in my lifetime. He went on to win five successive games to force a fifth and deciding set. I feel a novel could be written about that fourth set alone, which is very likely my bias coming through, but there is an important story that that fourth set tells above all, the one of Federer’s resilience. That sheer grit was missing for some time, and to see it return when it all but completed its duty, free to sail off into the sunset, is something of a reflection of Federer’s career as a whole.
A career is not measured in numbers - it is not years, records or scores - they will always play a large part, but strip it down even more and at its core, it is a journey. And Federer’s journey… that is one that can never be likened to another, let alone emulated.