Father Time is said to be undefeated in the sports world. All athletes, no matter how iconic, will eventually succumb to age, especially in professional athletics, where younger talent is added every year.
This is what makes the performances of the likes of Tom Brady, who was named NFL MVP at 40 years old, and LeBron James, who is averaging 26.5 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds at 33 years old in his 14th NBA season, so remarkable.
Roger Federer also falls into that echelon of older superstars still sitting at the top of their sport. The 36 year-old Federer has earned his way back to the number one spot in the ATP rankings, gaining 500 points from defeating Grigor Dimitrov in the championship round of the Rotterdam Open. It is the first time Federer has reach the top of the ATP since October of 2012.
Federer started his season strong, cleaning up the competition at the Australian Open, until running into a tough opponent in Marin Cilic in the tournament’s final round. As to be expected from a game that goes five sets, neither Federer nor Cilic had a huge advantage in any one aspect of the game. However, Federer’s slight advantage in service points won, which he bested Cilic 99-88, may have been what gave him the 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 Australian Open victory.
Although the 2,000 points Federer received from taking home a Grand Slam title isn’t what pushed him past Rafael Nadal for number one in the ATP, it set a precedent early in the season. Federer is back, and he has some records to chase.
The Australian Open win gives him 20 Grand Slam titles for his career, which already leads all male tennis players. He is still chasing Steffi Graf (22 titles), Serena Williams (23 titles), and Margaret Court (24 titles) for most all-time. Federer also trails both Novak Djokovic and Nadal in Masters 1000 Tournament wins, as the duo has 30 to Federer’s 27.
He will have two chances to chase down the latter record, first at the Indian Wells Masters tournament on March 5 in Indian Wells, Calif. Federer has won the tournament five times, and as recently as last year, defeating Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5 in the 2017 championship round.
Immediately following the Indian Wells Masters, Federer will take part in the Miami Open on March 19, a tournament Federer has won three times, with the most recent win again coming in 2017. In the final round of the tournament last year, Federer took down his long-time rival Nadal 6-3, 6-4.
As for Grand Slam tournaments, there are a few months before play begins at the French Open. The tournament is set to begin May 28 and run through June 4, and all of the conversation up to the beginning of the French Open will be if Federer will play or not. Last season he opted out, citing career longevity. The tournament is played on clay courts, a surface that Federer was trying to avoid.
With the way he is playing, it would appear Federer will take part in the French Open this season. However, if he feels avoiding clay courts is what is allowing him to play at such a high level at 36, then he could opt out again. Speculating is all that can be done until Federer makes his announcement, and the tennis world will be waiting eagerly for his final word on the French Open.
It is truly a special time for professional sports, as age is becoming less and less a factor in an athlete’s performance. Advances in sports medicine and nutrition are key factors in this. However, the legendary work ethic of Brady, James, and Federer are truly what allows these three to outperform all others in their respective sports again and again.
Federer will someday have to retire, as will Brady and James, but until that day comes, let’s all just appreciate their performances. It may be a long time until we see athletes of their caliber again.