The 2017 Australian Open has seen Roger Federer remind the world of his historic talent and we can only be grateful.
Growing up, in the early 1990s, I hated sporting dominance. Really detested it. If there was a team or an individual that was relentlessly successful then resentment quickly took hold. As a result, there are a number of incredibly impressive, skilled and talented athletes from that era that, to this day, I still have issues with.
Apologies to those involved (as if they’d care), but this list includes: Pete Sampras, Stephen Hendry, Phil Taylor, Manchester United, the Australian cricket side, Michael Schumacher and the Wigan rugby league team. For some of this list, my distaste has softened and I’ve grown to love them. As a fan of sport how can you stay angry at Shane Warne or Eric Cantona? Now that they no longer destroy the things I hold dear, in this instance England and Chelsea F.C., I can appreciate their ludicrous talents and the way they lit up their respective sports. Then there are those I’ll never like, let alone love – I’m looking at you Pete and Stephen.
Exceptions to the Rule
And so to Federer. There have been occasions, more recently, when dominance has appealed to me. Each time he takes to the track I long to see Usain Bolt demonstrate to the world what the human body is actually capable of. The personality that goes along with it is an added bonus, but not essential. Similarly, the All Blacks are impossible not to appreciate. Steve Hansen’s side is probably the greatest team in the world, not just in rugby, but across all sport. The attitude they have for their national sport, the significance they place on their jersey and the way they play the game is extraordinary. Roger Federer evokes these same emotions.
I shouldn’t have ever liked seeing Federer consistently win. He essentially did the same thing Pete Sampras did before him, rocking up at SW19 each summer and blowing away everything before him. When he wasn’t doing that he was hoovering up Grand Slams elsewhere around the world with alarming regularity. He doesn’t even have the off-court liability persona that made Warne and Cantona so appealing to so many. And yet, with all that taken into consideration, I love him. I love seeing him play and I love seeing him win.
It goes back to Bolt and the All Blacks. Watching something so unbelievably difficult, carried out in such style, is intoxicating. It’s like watching Shaun White on a half-pipe – it’s a dictionary’s definition of perfection. During the 21st century, men’s tennis has been about as good as any other sport on the planet thanks to Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. And while the other three in this glorious quartet place hefty weight on their physical attributes, be it speed, stamina or brute power, Federer must rely on utter elegance, style and execution.
At his peak, Federer was the tennis equivalent of a bowling machine in cricket. If you could build and program a tennis machine to carry out precise, exquisite perfection, it would work and function like Roger Federer (without the awful RF logo hat or that questionable foray into pre-match blazers and cardigans). It would do all those things, but without feeling mechanical and mundane. It wouldn’t be robotic, it would carry out perfection with svelte grace and agility.
Return to Glory
Federer has won 17 Grand Slam titles, but none since his last Wimbledon victory in 2012, and that came two years after winning the Australian Open. A combination of a loss of form, injuries, two sets of twins at home and the improvement of his rivals have meant the Swiss man’s powers have waned. His appearance in this year’s Australian Open final is a reminder of what we were all so lucky to witness for so long. I don’t know what would be better – Federer rolling back the years and winning a hatful of trophies again or one last hurrah in Melbourne before bowing out with all the grace that we’ve come to expect from the man.
Murray’s rise to the top of the tennis world has been an privilege to behold, and if it was the Scot that was facing Federer in the final my support would be with the younger man. As it is, I can’t wait to watch the best player to have ever picked up a tennis racket (no arguments please) strut his stuff. And a Federer-Nadal final to boot? They’re getting the band back together again. How 2008. Maybe Dizzee Rascal and Calvin Harris will collab to provide the soundtrack? As long as Boris Johnson isn’t elected as London Mayor and Quantum of Solace doesn’t hit the cinemas then we can all stay happy. It’s clichéd, but it is genuinely difficult to appreciate golden eras of sport while they are happening, it’s not until they’ve finally disappeared that you long for them again. Thankfully, this one has returned for it’s deserved encore, the applause should be deafening.