Roger Federer - the return of a true champion
The Australian Open has always been revered as one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year. Not only does it represent the first Grand Slam of the year, it often also sets the tone for the rest of the tennis season.
This year’s event, however, had an extra edge to it, as it marked the return of Roger Federer to Grand Slam tennis, following a lengthy injury layoff that caused him to miss the second half of last season.
However, Federer was set to take centre stage at Melbourne Park for more reasons than one.
A herculean task
Federer’s performances would determine whether or not he still had what it took to compete at the highest level, on his return from an injury that threatened to end his career; a few years before he would want to bid farewell to the game he loves the most.
But the Swiss’s return was not going to be easy by any means.
The world order of men’s tennis had indeed changed during his time away, with Andy Murray being knighted in more ways than one. Not only was the Brit given the honorary title ‘Sir’, but he also managed to dislodge Novak Djokovic, to claim the World No. 1 spot in the rankings.
Therefore, the Swiss master was always going to be up against it on his return. This was further evident when Federer was seeded No. 17 going into this year’s tournament in Melbourne, which also meant a very tough draw.
The magnitude of the 35-year-old’s task became evident in the first round itself, when he was stretched to four sets in his encounter against Jurgen Melzer of Austria. But Federer did manage to pull through and ultimately come out on top.
The God of small things
In an interview, in the build up to the ongoing Australian Open, Federer suggested that his time off from the game last year may help him prolong his career in the long run. And going by his performances so far, that kind of reasoning would be hard to argue against.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his incredible run at the Australian Open so far, has been the manner and the nature of his victories, rather than the results themselves. All his performances so far, have been decisive, clinical and ruthless; which is exactly what we’ve come to expect from him, over the years.
Having said this, let’s also not forget the few alterations that Federer has had to make to his game, given that he obviously isn’t getting younger, as the years go by.
One of the things that Federer has done exceedingly well since his return, is using his serve as a weapon against his competitors. Though the maestro has always had a formidable serve, he has somehow found a way to better himself on that front and the results are there for all to see. And one only has to look at the 24 aces he fired against Kei Nishikori, during his epic five-set victory over the Japanese international on Sunday.
Another feature of the 17-time Grand Slam champion's game so far, has been his willingness to dictate the pace of the rally and finish it off, at the first available opportunity; a habit which has not only held him in good stead so far, but may also define how much further the man from Basel will progress in Melbourne.
A champion on and off the court
Federer’s immaculate form at the Australian Open certainly speaks volumes of the tennis legend he undoubtedly is.
But at a more fundamental level, it speaks volumes of the kind of person he is. Someone who is characterised by his perseverance, grit and resilience; all these qualities are certainly a part of Federer, the tennis champion, but more significantly, they form the bedrock of Federer, the person.
And there can be no better evidence of this fact than his performance against Nishikori. The character and the resolve he showed off the court to recover from his injury, was also visible on the court, as the 17-time Grand Slam winner came from a set down to fend off a stiff challenge from the Japanese, who himself is known for his never-say-die attitude.
Being a champion in sport, as in life, is no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, it’s uncanny how the constituents for being a champion are the same in both, sport and life i.e. character, grit, a steely resolve and an unending passion for what you do.
All this and more was visible in Federer’s ecstatic expression after converting match point on Sunday. Never mind the 17 Grand Slam titles that he’s already won, his greatest achievement will always be, the next one.
Despite his incredible hunger for success and for all the immaculate tennis that Federer has been playing in Melbourne, so far, he still has a long way to go before he can possibly pick up his 18th Grand Slam title next Sunday.
But for the legions of Federer fans the world over, the sheer joy of being able to watch the Swiss ace in action once again, will certainly feel like a Grand Slam victory in itself.
For one thing is certain, regardless of who walks out with the Australian Open title next Sunday, the first Grand Slam of 2017 will always be remembered for the return of a true champion - Roger Federer, just as you know him.