The enduring appeal of Roger Federer

Adam Addicott explains why, even toward the end of his career, the Swiss continues to inspire all those around him

Roger Federer, Australian Open

Image: Andy Brownbill AP/Press Association Images

Few players have the ability to win a major title after missing six months of tour due to injury. Then again, Roger Federer is anything but ordinary in the world of sport.

Throughout 2016 many began to wonder if the record-breaking career of the 35-year-old was coming to an end following his misfortunes. Within the past 12 months, the Swiss player has been troubled by a knee injury, back injury as well as a bout of illness.

It was the knee that proved to be most devastating, forcing Federer to undergo surgery for the first time in his career before pulling the curtain on his season shortly after the Wimbledon Championships.

Federer’s hiatus from the sport only intensified his determination as his army of fans waited for his comeback. Embarking on his first competitive tournament since June at the Australian Open, it was hard to spot signs of rust. His first encounter against a top 10 player was branded a ‘Federer whitewash’. Facing Tomas Berdych in the third round, he made the tenth seed look somewhat ordinary with a straight sets triumph. Continuing his surge, the 35-year-old overcame Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka in five sets on route to the final.

"This is the last one. I will leave it all out in Australia, if I can’t walk for another five months [after] that’s OK. I will give it all I have," Federer said ahead of the Melbourne final.

The pledge of the former world No.1 was one he fulfilled. Facing Rafael Nadal for the 35th time in his career, Federer renewed one of the greatest rivalries in the Open Era in tennis. A niggling leg injury and a break down in the final set failed to tame Federer’s desire and passion as he closed out the match to win a record 18th grand slam title.

“For me, it's all about the comeback, about an epic match with Rafa again," Federer said about his win.

Switzerland's Roger Federer gestures as he answers questions at a press conference after defeating Spain's Rafael Nadal in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Winning titles is nothing new for Federer with Melbourne being his 89th on the ATP Tour. Yet, this time round his journey is one that has inspired the world. Starting the tournament as the 17th seed, his hopes and expectations were low. Nobody expected the Swiss to win, an unfamiliar scenario for him in recent years.

Despite this, the Melbourne journey turned out to be one for Federer to relish and one for his rivals to aspire to as he approaches the final years of his career.

"I've been coming here for almost 20 years now," he said. "I've always enjoyed it and now my family does too.
"Thanks again for everything, to everybody. I hope to see you next year.

"If not, this was a wonderful run here and I can't be more happy to win."

Once again, Federer has positioned himself as an icon of the tennis world. Even a disappointed Nadal expressed admiration for his nemesis after his loss.

"[It's] just amazing how he’s playing after such a long time without being on the tour. That's very difficult to make happen, so for sure you have been working hard to make that happen."

Federer’s presence on the tour inspires the oldest players as well as the youngest. On social media 35-year-old Spanish world No.29 Feliciano Lopez described the achievement as "inspiring". Meanwhile, 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who is the current Wimbledon Boys’ champion, hailed Federer as his 'biggest hero'.

It is inevitable that the career of Federer will one day come to an end. Nevertheless, the legacy of the 35-year-old is one that will likely live on for generations. An accolade that is only associated with the greatest sports people of all time.

Regardless of a person's age, gender, race or financial status, Federer is a player that continues inspires millions around the world. An astonishing achievement for a man in his mid-30s.