Serena Williams has just won the Stanford Classic, while also claiming a 200th week as world No 1 in her career. For those who don’t know much about tennis it would probably sound great. Those who do, know she has been living in her own shadow for months.
Roger Federer has won two ATP titles this year and reached the Wimbledon final. Many, including myself, believe the ‘Maestro’ has got one more Grand Slam in him. But what if he doesn’t?
Both of them are undisputed heroes and living legends of tennis; both of them have won Grand Slam titles around the world, Olympic medals, and Tour finals. Both of them are also strong contenders for the US Open crown next month. Will they manage to retire as champions, or will we have to watch them go down losing match after match to young, unknown players for whom they were lifelong heroes?
What you give is what you get?
That would place them in a position where years ago they put the greats of the previous generation.
In 2001, a 19-year-old Federer knocked the reigning champion Pete Sampras out of Wimbledon, and claimed his first title at SW19 two years later.
In 1997, Williams aged 16 and ranked no. 304 in the world upset the world no. 7 Mary Pierce and world no 4. Monica Seles. That same year she broke into the world’s top 100.
Never a good time?
Some retire early, maybe earlier than they should. Kim Clijsters retired at 23 but soon realised she had more to show, and came back to win the US Open in 2009 as a wildcard.
Others, like Jimmy Connors just continue endlessly. After dropping from the world no. 1 ranking Connors continued for almost a decade. Every time I hear about Tommy Haas I can’t help but think we’re talking past tense, yet he is still intending to return in 2015 following a shoulder injury.
Venus Williams and Lleyton Hewitt have been hanging around and fighting for survival for so long, that they risk being remembered more for their average days than the greatest ones. They say they are still around because they love the game, which, if it’s true, is a great reason. But many of those who love them will never understand.
Then there are those who retire as champions. Marion Bartoli retired just after claiming the Wimbledon crown in what can only be described as one of the most bizarre tournaments in recent times. But she won it. We knew and she knew it could be her only chance to be on top. And she embraced it to the fullest.
But it’s not her whose retirement I will never forget. It was Pete Sampras who nailed the art of retirement. In 2002 in his last professional match Sampras raised the US Open trophy after a blockbuster final against Andre Agassi. On the very same court he won his first Grand Slam on, against the very same opponent.
Part of me thinks that Williams and Federer have missed their chance to match it. At the same time, as a fan, I hope I’m wrong.
When retiring, aged 30, Steffi Graf said, “I’ve done everything I wanted to do in tennis.” What if Williams and Federer haven’t? What if they know they can do even better?
One day Roger might get his Olympic gold in singles and Serena her 23rd Grand Slam title and beat Graf’s record. To do so, it seems like they would have to do the impossible.
Not that they haven’t done that before.