On Sunday whilst the West Indies were capitulating to Pakistan in the fourth T20 international at the Queen’s Park Oval, sporting fans throughout the world were privileged to witness two of the greatest tennis players of the modern era, arguably of all time, in action at the Miami Open. The ever combative duo of, the winner of the most Grand Slam, Roger Federer and the fourteen time Grand Slam champion, Spanish ‘tenista’ Rafael Nadal, are among the premier professional sportsmen in any discipline today.
Roger Federer will be thirty-six years of age in August; in terms of the modern game, he is considered to be old. At the start of the year, the tennis fraternity was ‘hopeful’ for the Swiss veteran, whilst he was quoted as saying,”…I feel rejuvenated, refreshed. Maybe mentally I needed the rest more than I thought I would. Maybe also my body needed the rest more than I thought I would.”
Tennis’ iron man was coming off his first significant injury, a torn meniscus in the left knee, ironically suffered off the court, in the bath in January, which led to him curtailing his 2016 campaign in late July after the All England Tennis Championships, at Wimbledon.
Disappointed, he had decided to heed his doctor’s advice, “… and give both my body and my knee the proper time to fully recover.”
Having begun the year with his lowest ranking since 2001, he had earlier opted out of the French Open, bringing to an end his phenomenal streak of 65 consecutive Grand Slam appearances, dating back to his debut at the Roland Garros clay courts of Paris, 17 years before. Now, he was going to suffer the agony of missing the Olympics and the USA Open. For the first time since 2001, Federer, whose record was 21-7, failed to win a title on the ATP World Tour. However, he did manage to reach the semi-finals of both grand slams he entered, the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Following the all-time low of 2016, Federer was ranked as the 17th seed at this year’s Australian Open, his first tournament for 2017, his 20th year on the Tour. “Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here,” he announced. He disposed of the likes of Tomas Berych, Kei Nishikori, Mischa Zvervev and his fellow 2014 Davis Cup winner, compatriot Stan Wawrinka.
In the final, he faced his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, whom he had never beaten at the Australian Open, and whom he hadn’t beaten in a Grand Slam since 2007. Down 3-1 in the final set, Federer, the brave, recovered to take the stunning match 6-4,3-6,6-1,3-6,6-3, his eighteenth Grand Slam, his fifth Australian Open and his first Slam in four-and-a-half years.
Two Sundays past, in the final of the BNP Paribas Open, at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, California, (the long time stop on the Tour) in an all Swiss affair, he defeated Wawrinka, 6-4, 7-5. It was his 90th tour level crown, and his 25th ATP World Tour 1000 Masters title; in the process he became the oldest to achieve the latter, eclipsing Andre Agassi’s mark at age 34, in 2004. Earlier, he had beaten Nadal again, on the way to his fifth title in the desert, the first since 2012.
Federer hardly had time to savour his victory as he hopped on a plane for the East Coast to participate in the Miami Open. Whilst Nadal strolled through to the final, dropping just one set, Federer would have to grind his way to the final. His quarter-final and semi-final encounters were brutal third set tiebreaker matches. In the former, he saved two match points against Berych, and in the latter, he survived the tempestuous Australian Nick Kyrgios in a three hour and eleven minutes three-set three-tiebreaker; his sixth in eighth matches in three consecutive days.
The odds were strongly in favour of the 30 year-old Nadal, who had a convincing 23-13 record in their matchups on Tour, and Federer’s woeful 2-5 record in finals at this venue, where their rivalry began 13 years ago. “There is still a mountain to climb in Rafa. He’s definitely feeling fresher than I feel right now. That’s not a problem. I’ll be ready on Sunday,” he declared on Friday. And ready, he was, taking the title 6-3, 6-4. “What a start to the year. Can’t believe it,” he exclaimed, upon securing the ‘Sunshine Slam,’ and the first Big Three tournaments for 2017.
Just who is this tennis machine? The remarkable living legend is probably the most normal of all the superstars of today’s sporting world, married and blessed with two sets of twins ‒ twin girls and twin boys. The accolades are too numerous to mention, but here are a few: deemed the most marketable sports star by the London School of Marketing in 2015, won the Stefan Edberg Sportmanship Award (for tennis players) twelve times and voted ATPWorldTour.com Fan Favourite for a record 14 consecutive years (2003-2016) and counting.
A most gracious loser, (he has lost ten Grand Slam finals), a few years ago, at the presentation ceremony at Roland Garros, Paris, the multilingual (fluent in English, German, Swiss German and French), Federer addressed the home crowd in their native tongue, asking them to first acknowledge his conqueror, Nadal, then thanking them for coming and their marvellous support, the concluding with, “See you again next year, same place, same time.”
Federer is taking a break from the game for now, there are still three more Grand Slams to play. Perhaps he will slip away for a while to his secret Caribbean hideaway for a holiday. Who knows? The West Indies’ First Test against England this summer begins in mid-August, and the All England Tennis Championships are in the first two weeks of July (3-16); perhaps Jimmy Adams, the new Director of Coaching (he still is, right?) might have some contacts from his days as Kent County coach and can arrange for his charges to have a close-up look at how a real pro gets it done.
As the late novelist, David Foster Wallace described this icon, “Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws… a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light.”