Make no mistake. Roger Federer may have said that he is not sure if he can equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, but that is the healthy self-doubt all greats have, even at their peak. To be sure, he may or may not draw with Court—that is for time to tell. Before he gets there, he will have to draw with Steffi Graf (22) and Serena Williams (23). Williams, another great who is still active in the professional circuit, could of course smash Court’s record before Federer gets to have a go, in which case, the goal post would have shifted. All said, in the hall of men’s tennis greats, Federer will perhaps always remain primus inter pares. Behind his reign of men’s tennis are all the times he has rallied back from the brink—there was a time he had failed to clinch a major title for nearly five years in a row; he has won three in the last 12 months. Every time he falters, there is some talk of how he should call it a day. And every time this has happened, he clinches a matchpoint—though this undoubtedly doesn’t seem as effortless as it did in the past—and well-meaning suggestions of retirement die a natural death.
Age is just a number, as Federer says—lifting the Australian Open cup at 36 years of age, he became the oldest man to play for the title since Ken Rosewall, in 1972. He may have said, at the start of the Australian Open, that he didn’t think “a 36-year-old should be a favourite of a tournament” when told that the pundits and the press pegged him as the most likely to take home the cup (the pundits and the press, as you can see, were proved correct). But he has also hinted that he may not hang his boots just yet, saying he would “love to come back (for Australian Open 2019). Playing as he does, and for as long as he has, he has eclipsed his contemporaries who now seem to just trying to catch up. Yet, in his greatness, he has remained a humble man who will always play an exceptional game of tennis on good days and bad.