Not a tournament goes by without Roger Federer reminding us about his age. His legion of fans is happy to see him play for as long as possible but the physical challenges of the game were growing all the time.
Still, each time Federer would go away, he would find a way to pick himself up and stay competitive against the best in the business. To see him manage to do this, as a 38-year-old, was a rewarding and inspiring experience for many of his fans and even his opponents.
But the recent unscheduled break due to the Covid-19 pandemic might just put a permanent spanner in the works. The game (even the chance of taking to the practice courts) has come to a complete halt and at Federer’s age, being away from the game can make it much tougher to come back.
In a recent interview, former Wimbledon champion Todd Woodbridge said the cancellation of the 2020 Wimbledon Championships and ongoing suspension of the ATP Tour will change the course of tennis history.
“The question that Roger will have to ask himself is how motivated is he to come back for another year?,” Woodbridge told AAP.
“Or has this actually helped him? But the less match play that you get in this period at that age, it’s so much harder to come back and recover once you start again. So I really think that post-2020 will be a new era of people trying to create records because it’ll have really have broken up a great period in tennis.
Of course, with Federer, there are no guarantees. No one would have expected him to play some of his best tennis on the wrong side of 35 but he did. And he did it by reinventing the way he plays the game; by taking a few more risks.
The core of his game remains the same – his footwork, his serve, his game sense... it all remains the same but the layer of freedom that Federer added upon his game often made people feel like they were playing a different player altogether.
In an interview to El Pais last year, Roger Federer had reflected on how difficult improving is at 37 years old after playing for 21 seasons in a row.
The Swiss ace had said: “There are always ways to improve a bit more. It can be some shot here or there, how you organize yourself, it can be a question of re-calibrating everything, the life, how I plan to play a match, the mental preparation, where I train...”
Federer added: “You always have little things to do. For many players, once they turn 20 or 25 years old, it’s about keeping a certain level. I do not want to say that’s frustrating, because from 10 to 20 you see are hitting stronger and stronger, you move faster, and all of a sudden it comes a day where the improvements are small.”
Winning has helped Federer to stay motivated and that in turn has fuelled his competitive fire. But the Swiss master’s greatest strength has been his belief in himself. No matter how bad things get, Federer has always been able to look at the positive side of things.
“If you look at the bad side that’s terrible, but if you look at it with other eyes it’s interesting and passionate. I always try to get back to my best level and you have to show it every day,” Federer had told El Pais.
And when tennis does get back to the courts, it will be interesting to see what Federer might have added to his game or what time perhaps might have taken away.
As always, seeing Federer on the court won’t be boring at all.
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