It’s been 4 and a half years since Roger Federer — tennis’s greatest player of all time — last hoisted a Grand Slam trophy. Injuries, new young and up-and-coming talent, and Father Time have all had a hand in keeping Fed winless in the sports most glamorous events. After securing a record 17 Grand Slam championships at Wimbledon in 2012, Federer has gone 0-3 in Grand Slam finals since. He easily could have 20 by now — heck, in 2012 no one had any right to believe Roger couldn’t win multiple slams each year for as many more years as he wished to play. That was naive, of course. That’s part of the beauty of being so great. When you’re on the top of the mountain, it’s impossible to imagine them not being there. Implausible to believe time would catch up to them, that others could overtake them, that the greats always fade away. Then, in the blink of an eye, that’s exactly what happened.
Over the last few seasons, Roger Federer seemed to be as mortal as any other player to pick up a tennis racquet. Sort of. Well, maybe that’s slightly unfair, but when comparing Federer to, well, Federer, he was greatly underachieving. The 2013 campaign saw the living legend win only one tournament, no Grand Slams, and slip in the world rankings down to 6. And while the 2014 and ’15 seasons went much better — multiple runner-up finishes at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Federer still couldn’t add to his 17 major championships.
Then came last year.
As difficult as it was to imagine his descent in 2012, it was equally difficult to envision him winning another Slam after the tumultuous 2016 season he endured, which saw him pack up and disappear from sight in the middle of the summer. Knee surgery early in the year left the Swiss Wizard hobbled and without confidence on the court.
So when seedings were released for the Australian Open, it may have been hard to swallow, seeing Fed on the 17th line, but it wasn’t surprising — maybe the biggest surprise was that he was even playing tennis still, not where he was seeded.
But now, here we are, the weekend of the Australian Open final and look who’s preparing to play in his 28th Grand Slam championship match — another one of his many records. Yep, you guessed it.
Federer’s run in Melbourne has been magical and few could honestly say they predicted this. The man’s 35 years old — practically AARP-age in the tennis world; he’s a year removed from knee surgery; he hadn’t played competitive tennis in basically six months; and he had a tough road to hoe just to make it to the quarterfinals — playing and beating three top-10 players en route to Sunday’s finale.
When he takes Rod Laver Court on Sunday in search of an 18th Grand Slam title and a fifth Aussie Open championship, Federer will become the oldest man to reach a Slam final since 1974. Just add it to the resume of amazing feats that he continues to accomplish.
And if you thought the story couldn’t be written any better, Federer will need to beat longtime on-court nemesis and owner of 14 Grand Slam titles himself, Rafael Nadal, to complete the storybook ending. The calendar may say 2017, but looking at the Australian Open this weekend, it sure feels like 2005.
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