For most people, age is the enemy. For a sportswriter, though, it can be a best friend, or at least a lifeline in a time of need. If we’re looking for a reliably crowd-pleasing column topic, the touching travails of a former champion in decline is a hard one to beat. Everyone knows what it feels like not to be what we once were, right?
Roger Federer, former and current tennis champion, knows this genre of column all too well. He’s been the subject of dozens of them since he turned 30 and stopped gathering up Grand Slam titles by the truck full. When Federer said in January that he hoped to play for two or three more years, part of me cringed at the thought of how many wistful essays with titles like “A Melancholy Meditation on Federer and the Inevitability of Aging” we were going to have to read—and that I was probably going to end up writing.
Two months later, it’s hard to imagine a less relevant topic in tennis. Federer, like a thoroughbred who has been stabled for too long, has broken out of the gates so quickly in 2017 that he has left all talk of age, decline and melancholy behind. When he won the Australian Open in January, there was the requisite amazement that he had done it as a 35-year-old; no player that old had won one in 45 years. But this weekend, as Federer romped his way through the Indian Wells draw with the springy daring of a man in his prime, there was little mention of his age. Over the course of the tournament, there were few references to the number 35, and I can’t recall hearing the obligatory exclamation “vintage Federer!” even once.