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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

On the way down

Federer’s 22 years of play have been so dazzling that even his retreating shadow makes for a beautiful silhouette

By: Editorial |
Updated: July 9, 2021 8:19:41 am
Those watching him aged with him in that exhausted heartbeat, as ravages of time got magnified on HD screens.

Even the commentator articulated his summary of Roger Federer’s quarterfinal loss with more trepidation and less hope, when he wondered if this was the final farewell from the world’s famous grass court. Barely minutes after Hubert Hurkacz handed the 20-time Grand Slam champion and eight-time Wimbledon winner a crushing exit, speculation about the impending 40th birthday in a month’s time, grew louder. For years the Swiss great has defied age, as his graceful strokes continued to light up the court and the wins kept coming in against younger and fitter players. But for the first time ever in his career, in a sport that is becoming more and more physical, Federer looked his age. Those watching him aged with him in that exhausted heartbeat, as ravages of time got magnified on HD screens.

In Federer’s final set at Wimbledon, even that old faithful serve which took him to third on the list of most aces (scoring over 11,400) seemed not upto the challenge. The 14-month break because of the pandemic and two knee surgeries had taken away a great deal of match sharpness. No amount of generational advances in recovery techniques, no sports science, not even tactical tweaks like the squash shot or catching the second serve on half volley, might delay the inevitable. For the Federer-faithful, it is like the lifting of the spell, the shrill honking of the pumpkin chariot signalling it’s time to head back.

The cruelest twist perhaps was that Federer’s last-ever set on the fabled grass courts was his first ever “bagel”, a 6-0 score. By no means an abiding memory of the great Swiss at Wimbledon, the throbbing applause as he left formed a protective cover around him as he spoke of regrouping before thinking of a 23rd outing next year. The 22 years have been so dazzling that even Federer’s retreating shadow makes for a beautiful silhouette.

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