The King through the ages

Watching Roger Federer play is almost always a pleasure (except during those rare matches where he basically plays like he just rolled out of bed). But given his stellar season in 2017- two Grand Slams and six out of ten top-level tournaments won- it is worth taking a step back to look at how Federer's game has evolved over the years:

Even in that brief, and rather well done, compilation of clips there, you can see how his footwork, his aggression, and his tactics have evolved over time.

You can especially see how his backhand has transformed from his most vulnerable shot to a fearsome weapon that ranks right up there with the game's very best one-handed players. Even Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet, perhaps the best one-handed backhanders in the men's game today, can stand to learn a thing or two from the modern Federer backhand.

And then, of course, there is Federer's awesome forehand, perhaps the greatest example of that shot that I have ever seen in more than 25 years of watching and playing the game. I've never seen anyone come up with more variety, speed, spin, and angles than he has- including Pete Sampras.

I was thinking to myself earlier this morning about Federer's incredible legacy. It is highly likely that he will achieve his 20th Grand Slam singles title before he retires- and that, in my view, is a marker that will never, ever be broken.

Of course, I could easily be wrong about that. I thought that nobody would ever manage to exceed Pete Sampras's 14 Grand Slam titles, or his 7 Wimbledon titles. Roger Federer shattered the first record in 2009- only about 7 years after Sampras called time on his career- and he destroyed the second earlier this year.

Realistically, though, the only competitor that Federer now has in the Greatest Of All Time stakes is Rafael Nadal. And Nadal's extremely physical, highly punishing style of play has put sharp limits on how much longer he can play. I give him another three years or so, at most, before the wear and tear on his knees and body stop him from playing further.

No matter who takes up the mantle of the greatest player of the current generation, there is only one athlete that can claim to be the greatest tennis player ever. And that man is Roger Federer.

As I have said before, the day that he retires will be a day of mourning for the entire sport. We are all of us privileged to be living in a time of titans. We are especially fortunate to be living in a time when the most graceful and beautiful aspects of the game of tennis are given their fullest expression through the skill and artistry of one man, who has elevated those aspects to heights that no generation before us has ever witnessed.

It does not matter which era of tennis you look at. It does not matter which past player you talk about. Willie Renshaw, Ken Rosewall, Bjorn Borg, Roy Emerson- even Rod Laver or Pete Sampras; none of them were able to match Federer's level of artistry on the court.

Part of that is certainly due to changes in technology over the decades. It is simply not possible to generate the kind of power and top spin from old wooden racquets and cat-gut strings as one can with modern carbon-titanium-graphite frames and synthetic strings. Nor were the courts back then anything like they are now, what with the changes in surfaces and materials.

None of which takes away from Federer's impossible achievements. He is, quite simply, the greatest ever.

He has done things which nobody thought were even remotely possible twenty years ago. He has dominated the game to an extent that nobody else before him has. He has done all of this while being, by all accounts, a profoundly decent and good human being, a loving husband and a doting father, and a true icon and role model for his sport.

The day that he hangs up his racquet for good draws ever closer. His reign as the King is drawing to an end. The march of time is relentless and ruthless, and the day will come when his body simply will not be able to handle the brutal strain and endless grind of the modern men's tour.

Yet Federer has achieved one thing that all men crave deep down, but few ever manage: true immortality.

Long after we are gone and our bones are dust, his name will be spoken in reverence. His legacy will continue to grow until his name will become synonymous with the game of tennis itself. His children's grandchildren will be weaned on his legend.

But the day that he calls it quits is the day that the game of tennis will be irreversibly diminished.


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