A thriller of a final at Wimbledon that resulted in probably the best player in the men’s game right now defeating arguably the best to ever pick up a tennis racket? It’s becoming a familiar script, with the metronomic Novak Djokovic once again putting the kibbosh on the ageless Roger Federer’s chances at a fairytale eighth Wimbledon title, and 18th overall. But even in defeat, Federer continues to amaze, his 33-year-old legs somehow keeping up with Djokovic, he of the much-storied and punishing fitness regimen. On the way to the final, Federer dismantled Andy Murray in straight sets, playing tennis of such astonishing beauty that spectators were reminded of a mid-2000s vintage Federer, when his dominance of the sport was so complete he seemed entirely invincible.
A decade has gone by since, though. The inexorable march of time reduces the most brilliant exponents of their craft to also-rans; in sport, the great become merely the good, and sometimes not even that. But perhaps it should not come as a surprise that Federer, whose flick of the wrist can make irrelevant the laws of geometry and physics, would craft a late career that defies comprehension in a sports culture that is almost psychotically single-minded about legacy. Federer circa 2015 is no longer emperor of all he surveys, but he is still a contender. Contrast this with some of his old competitors, who have hung up their tennis shoes for the commentary box, or the nosedive of his great rival and bete noire, Rafael Nadal, to the bottom of the top 10. His longevity is almost as befuddling as that backhand in the final game against Murray.
Oddly, this Wimbledon defeat has inspired fewer obituaries for Federer’s career than last year’s loss to Djokovic, where the sense that he would never again win another major was pervasive. Today, his joy in the game is evident, and he retains the ability to skip-glide around the court with the grace and athleticism that always made his tennis look effortless, even sublime.