A slower-than-expected recovery from knee surgery has caused Roger Federer to withdraw from next month’s Australian Open, meaning that if the Swiss ace is again to grace our country’s biggest tournament he will do so as a man who’s hit 40.
Realistically, could he still be a threat at that age?
Weekend warriors beyond a certain age know all too well there are realities associated with an ageing body that can be played down but not evaded. You lose strength and speed. Your VO2max wanes. You come up rougher from heavy exertion and recover more slowly.
Federer is no weekend warrior. But even the greatest player of all time (feel free to dispute that point; we’ll stand by it) is a flesh-and-blood organism subject to all the same forces as you are.
What’s easy to forget about Federer because his game remains so sublime is that he has been past his peak for a decade. Consider his tally of 20 grand-slam titles: he won 16 of those between 2003-10 while he was in his 20s.
So, before you get to wondering about how he’ll cope in his 40s, keep in mind how much harder winning silverware has been for him in his 30s.
His great rival, Rafael Nadal, was expected to conk out sooner because of his grinding style but it’s the Spaniard who’s fared better as a thirtysomething.
Corey Bocking, a strength and conditioning coach who has worked with Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis and witnessed first-hand Federer’s training methods, sees no reason to think the Swiss will be reduced to an also-ran when he returns to the circuit.
“Roger is the GOAT for a reason and I have no doubt he will win at least one more grand-slam title before he hangs up his Wilson,” says Bocking.
“He’s surrounded by the best people and will leave no stone unturned in his comeback.
“Roger has earned the right to pick and choose which tournaments he plays. He will carefully manage his workload and target certain tournaments, specifically this year’s Wimbledon.”
For his part, Federer is firmly in the age-is-no-barrier camp.
“When I was younger – 20, 22, 24 – I was already hoping that one day I could play for a long time,” he said recently. “I hoped to have longevity. I’ve worked hard for it. I’ve kept myself in good shape.”
Federer will draw confidence from having won three major titles in 2017-18 after a six-month lay-off caused by a previous knee injury. If he could do it then, he would figure, why not again?
What most veterans lose – that pure love of the game, tolerance for the jetsetter life – Federer has kept despite everything, including fathering two sets of twins.
The smartest advice we can give you on this is also the oldest: never write off a champion.