I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned
–Lyrics by Natasha Bedingfield
It’s been a few days since Roger Federer won the Shanghai Rolex Masters trophy. It was his 81st career title and more importantly, a title he had never won before. All in all, considering he wasn’t even sure he would be able to come to the tournament and he had to save 5 match points in his first match, this was a dream ending indeed. As he kissed the trophy in the midst of all the confetti and the flashbulbs went off, the media started to write their narratives.
As is the norm these days most of them were along the lines of ‘Federer turns back time’ and ‘33 year old Federer regains #2 ranking’. The story was about an old man winning against the odds. Now, I myself also marvel at his performance given his age and how long he’s been on tour but I am not surprised or taken aback by it ever. So it puzzled me initially at how much emphasis was put on his recent success in relation to him being 33 years old.
Then I remembered back to a year ago at Shanghai and the many tournaments of 2013 where he failed to live up to his own standards. The stories then were about his age too. ‘Father Time is catching up’ or ‘Federer has lost a step or two… or ten’. So in conclusion, he is performing according to his age when he fails and when he succeeds it’s a rare cosmic event when all the stars have lined up just right for him to defy his age on that specific day. Well I am going to stand up right here, right now and say I reject both of those linear notions. I hereby present a third suggestion: Stop putting Roger Federer in an age-box.
Yes, this is going to be a rant so bear with me. I don’t mean to discount his age totally. Obviously it matters. But I refuse to frame his legacy by the parameters set by his age. He didn’t start his amazing career when he was supposed to according to his age group and he’s not going to stop according to that either. If you remember correctly, way back before he won his first Grand Slam he was one of those players who performed astoundingly well, but only some of the time. His contemporaries made it big before he did: Hewitt, Safin, Nalbandian and even Roddick. By their standards, time was passing him by and the window for his breakthrough was getting smaller. Then came Wimbledon 2003 and everything changed, for him and for tennis.
Forward to 2014 and his contemporaries have mostly retired. Davydenko called it quits only days ago and while there are more 30+ year olds in the top 100 than ever before, those of his generation still hanging around, who excelled at their ‘peak age’ are not even in the top 30. ‘Age’ and ‘Federer the tennis player’ never traveled the same road, just like ‘Becoming a father’ and ‘Federer the tennis player’. I don’t know what more he has to do to prove that. He’s gone from losing at age 32 to winning at age 33; he’s gone from being a father of 2 to a father of 4 and still plays a full tour. Isn’t it about time we realized he doesn’t follow the rules of space and time?
Roger Federer is not a normal human being. He’s a supreme talent and a ridiculous athlete combined. He has set records that will never be broken and is continuing to break new ground with each match he plays. He was assured of being in the hall of fame back when he reached 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals and won 8 of them; or when he won 24 finals in a row from 2003 to 2005; or when he held the #1 ranking for 302 weeks. Presented with staggering stats like those, how can you still apply any of the usual limitations to him?
With this win in Shanghai he reached the following records:
- This was Roger’s 81st career title, his 4th title of 2014 and his 2nd Masters title this year.
- Shanghai was Roger’s 23rd Masters title win; he is at second place behind Rafa.
- This was his first trophy in Shanghai after it became a Masters Tournament in 2009.
- Roger has now won every single hardcourt Masters Tournament which is a record. Not even hardcourt king Novak Djokovic has this one yet.
- This was Roger’s 17th hardcourt Masters title which is also a record.
- This was Roger’s 55th hardcourt title win and he holds this record by quite a gap; Agassi is next with 46 hardcourt titles.
- The Shanghai title was Roger’s 61st outdoor title which puts him at second place behind Rafa’s 62.
- He has now won 61 matches this year and leads the tour with the most wins thus far.
- He has now won 984 career matches out of the 1,209 he played.
- The final was his 309th match win at the Masters level.
- This match was also his 606th hardcourt match win which is of course a record. This was his 744th outdoor match win as well which puts him at third place behind Connors and Vilas.
Isn’t that list impressive? Or rather, isn’t that list impressive irrespective of his 33 years or how many children he has? All my rant is trying to get at is this: yes, age is a factor in his performance but it is not the defining one. He is Roger-freaking-Federer – That is the biggest factor in all his matches.
None of our futures are written in stone though some basic predictions can be made about most of us using demographic and genetic variables. But most of us are not outliers. Roger is. He is an unbelievable tennis god. You cannot predict his performance using the law of averages. So stop writing his future as if you know it. You don’t. He doesn’t either. But you can be damned sure he will continue to shatter your deeply-held beliefs of what a 33 year old tennis player should or should not accomplish. He learned early on that to reach the dizzying heights that existed only in the realm of his own imagination, he would need to shed the shackles of expectations set by mere mortals. He has been crafting his own story for a long time without paying any heed to what it was ‘supposed’ to be. No reason to stop now.
Roger Federer has no precedents. Roger Federer is probably setting no precedents either. There was none like him before and none will be like him in the future. He is unlabelled, undefined and unwritten. Forget about the age-box. Just sit back and enjoy the Maestro doing what he was born to do – making the impossible possible.
Rant over 😉 I’ll be back when he kicks off in Basel in two days!