Roger Federer turned 36 on Tuesday, barely three weeks after becoming the oldest ever Wimbledon champion, which makes him quite the geriatric in tennis terms. Yet, by at least one measure, Federer is still something of a spring chicken, with Australian marvel Ken Rosewall having played his last two major finals at the age of 39.
“I was in my 40th year when I got to those two grand slam finals, Wimbledon and the US Open, so that was quite exceptional and a surprise to me and a surprise to a lot of other people, I think!” laughs the 82-year-old from his new home on the Gold Coast.
“I hope Roger continues because it’d be good for the game. And until the time comes when his form drops a little bit – and it remains to be seen how far off that is – until he starts losing some matches that he’s not too happy about, I don’t see why he won’t keep competing.”
At each of the past few Australian Opens, Rosewall has penned a letter of well-wishes to Federer, his favourite current-day player, which he leaves with the locker-room attendant at Melbourne Park. This year, few had expected Federer would be marching towards a famous victory in his comeback tournament, following an injury-enforced but ultimately rejuvenating six month break from the game. Then, in July at Wimbledon, came record-extending singles major No.19. Incredible.
“It’s been, well, I was going to say miraculous, but I mean with Roger you’d expect something pretty good, anyway,” says Rosewall, who remains the oldest men’s grand slam winner, by virtue of his 1972 Australian Open triumph at the age of 37.
“Looking back on it, he’s the first one to admit that the time off that he had last year revitalised his career. He needed a bit of a break after having a long period of being competitive, so I think now he’s 36, ok, well he’s in the older brigade and not too many players have reached that stage.
“He’d had so much tennis and so much travelling, and so much pressure on him to perform every time he walked on the court, and he did that for so many years, that he was ready for a break… So he’s come back stronger and fitter than ever and I don’t see any problem with him continuing to play as well and win as much as he’s doing while he continues injury free and still wants to play and enjoy the competition.”
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Federer has long been a master of scheduling management, with his decision to skip the clay-court season to focus on the grass just the latest example. “Yes, that worked out well,” says Rosewall, approvingly.
As to how many more singles majors the Swiss has left in him, Rosewall – who claimed the last three of his eight after his 35th birthday – sees Rafael Nadal as one of the few dangers in the next, the US Open, considering that recent champions Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are among the confirmed absentees.
So can the great Federer get to 20? “I think it would be a nice bet,” Rosewall says. “There’s every chance that he will.”
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