Roger Federer is a proud man.
You get the feeling that he sincerely believes he should not lose a tennis match. He almost thinks defeat represents an insult to the sport.
‘God, it’s killing me’, the famous words of a tearful Federer on that amazing night in Melbourne when he lost the 2009 Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal.
What might have been if Nadal had delayed his arrival by another five years? What might have been if the freak of clay hadn’t come along at all?
Federer would have been lounging in the comfort of a mind-boggling ‘twenty-something’ Grand Slam titles.
Make no mistake. Roger Federer is excellent on clay. He has five French Open finals on his CV. That is excellent in anyone’s book- except in the book of Rafael Nadal.
Nadal had inflicted so much damage on Federer that the Swiss must have quietly accepted that he would never win Roland Garros- or at least, that he would never beat Nadal in that theatre of pain.
So; what we have, we hold. Keep your clay, I’ll keep my grass and hard. That was the unwritten pact between the two great rivals. But Nadal was having none of it.
Less than a year after capturing Federer’s grass kingdom in that epic coup in the fading lights of the All England Club, Nadal would strike again down under, reducing Federer to tears as he snatched the Australian Open title- on hard courts.
Federer was shattered. Grass gone, hard gone, clay hopeless.
Roger Federer was surely sent by the gods. His tennis: Pure, holy, and pristine. That is why he’s been so successful in whites at Wimbledon, and not so fruitful on the dirts of Roland Garros. That place is not just for him.
But greatness demanded that this man conquered every surface, and how he hoped the gods- his kinsmen- would grant him this one last wish- to win Roland Garros.
It surely could not happen in 2009. Rafael Nadal- a reigning Grand Slam champion on grass and hard courts at the peak of his powers- was returning to the bread and butter of clay.
Roger Federer- the dethroned king of grass and hard- was about to be slaughtered in Paris.
But in an extra-ordinary twist of fate, Nadal’s spotless record at the French Open was soiled- not by Federer, as he couldn’t do it himself- but by Robin Soderling, who had suffered a 6-0 6-0 loss to Nadal just a few weeks earlier in Rome.
Federer would eventually go on to beat Soderling in the final, win the French Open and seal his place as the greatest exponent of this great sport.
That was the work of the gods.
Federer is currently on an injury break, which will continue for the rest of the year.
We expect to see the great man back in action in 2017, but for how long will he remain with us?
That is not for us to decide. Let us not disturb ourselves with speculations. Let us instead, sit back and enjoy what is left of the most beautiful thing to ever grace a tennis court.
Before he packs his bags for one last time.