An evergreen legend

"U Can't Touch This", Federer Edition
It's worth taking a break once in a while from ranting about politics, the war against Islam, the war for the culture, and HALO to point out that, even in these dark and cynical days, there is still one man who seems to defy the ravages of time:
Inevitably, an aging tennis player can't escape questions of retirement, whether or not he's playing at the highest echelon of the game. 
This has been the unenviable fate of Roger Federer for the past four years. No matter how well he's playing -- he's No. 3 on the ATP rankings -- the inquiry keeps popping up. 
So Federer, 34, recently decided to spare fans any speculation as to his 2016 plans. 
"I have quite a clear idea how the schedule could look," Federer told reporters at the recent Shanghai Masters. "I'll be playing through the end of next year, actually. There's some moving parts, which I still don't know. But I have a bit of a very good idea what I think I want to do." 
Not even a family of six -- Federer's twin daughters are 6 years old and his twin sons are 17 months -- can slow him down. The nomadic lifestyle clearly works for them. 
Included in his plan is a steadfast desire to go for gold at the Rio Olympics next season. Federer already has a gold medal in doubles from the 2008 Beijing Games and a silver in singles from London four years ago. 
"Of course, Rio is one of the priorities of next year," Federer said. "It's not the only one. It's going to be a different type of schedule next year because of the Olympic year. It's always like that, when there's a bit of a change in the calendar." 
Federer's play this season proved he is still capable of winning Grand Slam titles, having reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals. In both of those events, he lost to No. 1 Novak Djokovic in four sets. But it's not as if Federer can't beat Djokovic; he did so twice this season, in the Dubai and Cincinnati finals. 
When asked whether he could add to his 17 Grand Slam titles, Federer was reflective. 
"We shall find out next year if I'm going to make it or not," Federer said. "Novak's definitely the man to beat at the moment. He's had an unreal season again. He's not only doing it at the Slams, but he's also doing it on the tour week in, week out. It's tough to break that for any player right now. I think the player's got their work cut out for them." 
In 1969, legend Rod Laver won his second season Grand Slam. Although he wasn't quite 30 yet, he had been around the game a long time and understood the potential travails of older players. 
Now 77 years old, Laver, who was a guest at the Shanghai Masters, still has a keen eye when it comes to vetting talent. 
"I think if you love the game and you enjoy it, there's no end," Laver told reporters. "You don't have to just say that's it. [Federer] is playing great tennis. I almost think he's playing better tennis now than he was a couple of years ago." 
Of late, Federer has made adjustments to his game, playing more aggressively and eagerly ending points earlier, a methodology for conserving energy. His serve and forehand have changed a bit and he's even added a half-volley return to his arsenal, a shot he first tried in practice as a joke. [Didact: This is known as the "SABR"- "Sneak Attack By Roger"- and it is a thing of beauty to watch on the roughly 40% or so of the attempts where it actually works.]
Watching the GOAT play over the last two years under the tutelage of Stefan Edberg has been something of a revelation. Roger Federer simply defies the years, and the mileage, with his dazzling shotplay and seemingly effortless on-court movement. He's playing less frequently now than he used to during the height of his reign in 2006 and 2007, yet he's still unquestionably the second-best player on the tour.

And indeed, Federer has added several new tricks to his already considerable arsenal. Just look at what happens when the SABR actually works:



For another, his already considerable mastery of the art of the humblebrag appears to have ascended to ever more ridiculous heights this year.

And then, of course, there are his epic hot-dogs. Now, these have to be seen to be truly appreciated for their ridiculous awesomeness:



Just look at that expression on Novak's face after that absurdly amazing tweener. It simply says, "Eff. My. Life.".

Now, that's not to say that Roger Federer is entirely without flaw.

When the inevitable debates about whether or not he is the greatest tennis player of all time are held after he retires, the naysayers will inevitably focus on the fact that his two greatest contemporary rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, have his number. In Nadal's case, the margin is a staggering 23-10 in Nadal's favour; in Djokovic's case, the two are tied at 21 apiece.

Given that, when the almighty Pete Sampras retired, he had a career edge over his greatest rival, Andre Agassi, of 20-14, the fact that Rafael Nadal has so convincingly trounced the greatest player of his, and probably any other, generation, is going to fuel the fires of that debate for many years to come.

For me, though, there simply isn't any debate. Federer is the greatest ever. I've never seen anyone play like him- and once you've seen him play, in full flow with his sharply-angled winners, his impossible-to-read serve, his aggressive net tactics, and his seemingly effortless athleticism, nothing else comes close.

His rivals are beasts on the court; their styles of play involve brute force and physicality and raw aggression. But Federer floats above it all, ruthlessly dispatching all but the most difficult opponents with what looks like very little hard work- but in reality is the product of nearly thirty years of training, dedication, and truly staggering levels of God-given talent.

And I fear that we will not see his like again in our lifetimes.

So enjoy the Swiss maestro's quality while you can. We are watching the twilight years of a champion without peer, a man about whom enough accolades and superlatives will probably never be found. And we are truly privileged to be able to watch such a great athlete moving toward the inevitable with such self-assurance, still capable of winning against younger, faster, and stronger rivals through sheer skill and force of will.

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