For so long, he seemed to have it so good.
When everybody seemed to be collapsing all around him, one thinks of gone-but-not forgotten creaking contemporaries such as Marat Safin, David Nalbandian and Andy Roddick, Roger Federer appeared to be peculiarly protected from the inevitable ravages of time. Almost as if an age-halting emollient had covered his gilded and gliding joints.
The news that he will not play at next month’s Olympic Games, the US Open or the rest of the year due to a dodgy knee should probably not be viewed as a huge surprise after such a distressed season. Yet is still shocking when Federer had lived such a charmed life in his 18-year professional career until gravity took a grip earlier this year.
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We are heading for the post-Federer era in tennis, perhaps from as soon as next season if he can no longer manage the inevitable decline that tends to afflict all aging athletes. But where there is life, there is hope.
Federer's fire continues to burn brightly judging by his statement on Facebook last night.
At least we should be glad he has not gone for good.
According to his agent Tony Godsick speaking to ESPN, there is no "doom and gloom" in the Swiss artist's camp after reaching the last four in Halle and Wimbledon on grass despite being slightly off colour wearing all white.
"In the end, I think he realised the competition, as tough as it is, you don't help yourself by playing less than your best," said Godsick.
"Now he can manage his schedule, and take the steps necessary to get bigger, faster and stronger."
Witnessing Federer tumble in the Wimbledon semi-final against Milos Raonic on Centre Court earlier this month - before tumbling out in five sets - had left many commentators fearing that we might have seen the last of the great man in London.
For the first time in living memory, he required a trainer to appear on court to study his knee. Twice in one match. A few nervous laughs greeted the moment among the crowd immediately after he fell, but Federer appreciated the poignancy of such a slip.
I hope it’s not so bad. I walked it off. I was able to finish," he said. "But I don’t slip a lot. I don’t ever fall down. It was a different fall for me than I’ve ever had.
Federer has managed to play only seven events this season, and the strain he is placing on the knee has obviously created enough concern among medical professionals to recommend complete rest and rehabilitation.
The situation must be serious. Otherwise Federer would never have willingly deprived himself of his final realistic chance to win an Olympic gold in singles. It was one of his few remaining goals in a sport he could walk away from, and be declared the greatest.
Prior to the knee problem, managing a slightly wonky back seemed to be the main culprit, but even that appeared to be swatted away with as much self-assuredness as one of his glorious flashing backhand winners.
Federer twice needed treatment at Wimbledon.
Image credit: Eurosport
When he was forced to withdraw from the World Tour final at London’s O2 against Novak Djokovic in 2014, he returned a week later to help Switzerland throttle France to land the Davis Cup. The back appeared to be as durable as titanium, apparently made in Basel from gold bullion.
He contested the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open a year ago, losing both to Novak Djokovic. At the age of 34, his main thought process seemed to revolve around how to formulate plans to land the elusive 18th Grand Slam.
Then 2016 reared its head, and all that changed.
He lost again to Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, but there was nothing to suggest he should deviate away from the grand plan with his opponent playing some of the best tennis in the sport’s history on his way to sweeping aside Andy Murray in the final.
Fatherhood is said to affect all sportsmen, and brought Federer’s season to an unforeseen halt when he damaged a knee after an innocuous moment.
He required surgery for the first time in his career, an arthroscopy to repair a torn meniscus sustained while running a bath for his twin daughters.
I'm very happy how it went, but clearly that was very sad when I did get the news I did have to have an operation because I thought I was going to get through my career without any," he said back in March. "It was a big shock and yeah, disappointing.
A sequence of appearing in 65 straight Grand Slams was ended when he withdrew from the French Open in May. He will suddenly miss a first US Open since 1999.
If he was crestfallen in May, imagine how he must be feeling at the moment?
Old age does not come alone. In professional sport, the body tends to tell the athlete when enough is enough. Fate eventually masters all great champions.
Federer will be 35 when he relaunches his career ahead of the Australian Open in January. He will be out of the world’s top 16 by then, facing a hazardous draw when he could be forced to confront some serious younger foes after five months without proper competition.
But it is dangerous to predict the end is nigh for such a remarkable figure. It is easy to spell doom.
Federer out of Olympics and US Open to recover from knee surgery
Federer has gone beyond the point when one wonders if he should call it a day. He passed that point after winning Wimbledon in 2012, but has reached a stage where he is serving to stay in his career. Probably on a yearly basis.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light, but for how long can he distract the human body's inevitable decline?
The huge physical and mental demands should not be underestimated. Yet Federer must still harbour ambitions of being the oldest man behind 37-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1972 to lift a Grand Slam. It all comes down to desire which Federer has never been short of.
Even if retirement is suddenly a much likelier bedfellow than another Grand Slam title, let's accept the words of his agent at face value. Let's hope a New Year brings a fresh start.
Let's cling to the hope one of sport's greatest artists can paint a rosier picture across the world's tennis courts.
At least for a few more engrossing years yet.
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