By Pradip Kumar Mohapatra
Sr. Sports Writer
Age cannot wither him. Time fails when his stamina rules. Even at 36, Roger Federer decimates opponents and reigns over all tennis courts. The game has seen many champions and heartthrobs but none like this Swiss legend. When ace tennis star Roger Federer reclaimed his Australian Open title a year ago, five years after his previous Grand Slam title, it felt like an impossible gift from the past- one final reminder of what had once been at a time when all assumed it had gone forever.
The man was 35. He had been out of tennis courts for six months after a knee surgery and back problems and the 17th seed for a reason. You were astonished by the comeback and you were thankful to have witnessed one glorious final heist.
We were all fools. In the past 12 months, Federer has now won three Grand Slam titles. At 36, he began this Aussie Open as favourite and then won it with the loss of only two sets (and both of those in the final). This is not nostalgia. This is the moment for the unrivalled champion. This is new dominance, not an echo of past glories, a greatest tour of successes that has produced three fresh classics.
It is not inconceivable that the 36-year- old champion, rejuvenated yet again in the twilight of his career by winning his 20 th Major Grand Slam title in a thrilling five-set face off with Marin Cilic on Sunday. By demonstrating this unbelievable agility at this age, Federer has shown what it takes to be a timeless winner. He will continue playing as long as his body can take it – and his wife, Mirka, is prepared to travel the world with him and their four children The one prize that eludes him is an Olympic singles gold medal – and that might be incentive enough for him to qualify for Tokyo by returning to playing Davis Cup for his country – although he is in no shape to join his compatriots in Kazakhstan this weekend. But his enthusiasm is undimmed. In the immediate afterglow of his edgy victory, Federer left open the prospect of an extended finish to his playing days with the sort of guarded response that hints at a career in politics when he eventually does retire from the sport he has graced with skill and class for nearly two decades.
Asked how long he could resist the challenges of the contenders stretching their young limbs with increasing impatience as the Big Four linger near the exit door, Federer said: “Honestly, I don’t know. I have no idea. I’ve won three slams now in 12 months. I can’t believe it myself. I’ve just got to keep a good schedule, stay hungry, then maybe good things can happen. Then I don’t think age is an issue, per se. It’s just a number.