There was a time, about a decade ago now, when Roger Federer was completely and utterly untouchable.
He was on another planet, far and away the best player in the game. He rewrote the game’s record books, his effortless style and admirable grace almost single-handedly ushering in a golden era of tennis.
During that period, between about 2005 and 2010, to say Federer was the best player in the game’s history was not considered hyperbole — how could it be, have you seen him play? He may never lose again!
Some say Federer is unlucky to have played at the time he has, with Rafael Nadal imperious on clay and brilliant everywhere else, and tennis cyborgs Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray sweeping up everything else.
They say if he had played in another era, Federer would have won just about everything. He definitely would have a year Grand Slam to his name if Rafa had not had such a monopoly over the French Open in his pomp.
By Wimbledon 2012, he was just one of an ever-growing pack of greats. He conquered both Djokovic and Murray in that tournament for his 17th major title, but it was getting harder.
And for the nearly five years since that final, it looked like that would be it. 17 brilliant triumphs for the man that may well have been the greatest of his — or of any — time, but for now was just one member of the golden group whose numbers had blown out to as many as five.
But we all still hoped for one more miracle, one more perfect fortnight full of cross-court backhands and steely-eyed fist pumps. For some reason, 18 grand slams just seemed so much better than 17.
That it was to come at the Australian Open, at the conclusion of an extended lay off after a career-threatening knee injury, and in a five-set doozy against Nadal of all people, was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Fed comes full circle
Australian Open honour roll
|2017||Roger Federer (SUI)||Rafael Nadal (SPA)|
|2016||Novak Djokovic (SER)||Andy Murray (GBR)|
|2015||Novak Djokovic (SER)||Andy Murray (GBR)|
|2014||Stan Wawrinka (SUI)||Rafael Nadal (SPA)|
|2013||Novak Djokovic (SER)||Andy Murray (GBR)|
|2012||Novak Djokovic (SER)||Rafael Nadal (SPA)|
|2011||Novak Djokovic (SER)||Andy Murray (GBR)|
|2010||Roger Federer (SUI)||Andy Murray (GBR)|
|2009||Rafael Nadal (SPA)||Roger Federer (SUI)|
Federer’s reaction as the ball-tracking technology confirmed what we already knew — the ball was good, the trophy was his — was of a man a little unsure how to react. He used to have a routine for celebrating final victories, but this one was on the fly.
If it is to be the last time we see those sorts of celebrations we can longer feel aggrieved — we got our “just one more”, and in the most thrilling manner imaginable.
So those who said Federer was unlucky to have played through this era were wrong. Sure, his numbers would have looked better without the competition, but would it have meant as much?
This guy has won when he stood alone in greatness and when greatness was well populated. He’s won when he was in his prime and when he was fighting every muscle in his body. He’s won against every other challenging member of the Big Four.
There can be no doubt any more — of this golden era, Roger Federer is the most golden and always will be.