King. God. GOAT. All these words have been used to address Roger Federer since he won his first title at Wimbledon in 2003. It was evident from that very stage that the Swiss ace was destined for greatness. But what nobody would have comprehended then was his sheer lust for achievement, and his desire and hunger in a career that’s seen four US presidents, several environmental crises and the independence of a few countries among other things. After the maestro won his 100th career title on Saturday (his first came in February 2001), the sporting community formed an orderly queue to genuflect at his feet. But let us, for one moment, forget the numbers that will undoubtedly form part of how we define the legend—20 Grand Slams, including eight Wimbledons.
What truly makes him a special athlete is the unrivalled adulation fans, peers and pundits reserve for him. It’s rare to come across an athlete who can reach across the aisle and unite warring factions, but that’s exactly what the 37-year-old does. He has that effect because of the way he goes about winning games, matches and titles—the Swiss is the living embodiment of a successful marriage between elevated art and the highest form of decency. That’s the reason why millennials and centennials alike have stuck by him; they don’t even demand instantaneous gratification when Federer is around.
Obituaries were written after his four fruitless, Slam-less years that included a six-month break to rest and recuperate. But the Swiss maestro then made a stunning comeback at the 2017 Australian Open. His Indian summer has so far yielded 12 crowns, including three Majors. But then, he doesn’t really think about the titles anymore. Sure, he will take it. But he’s in the gig now because of the fun it gives him. “I just want to enjoy myself,” he said before the Australian Open in 2019. “I don’t think I have ever had more fun than right now.” Nobody knows when he will hang up his tennis racquet but it will be a privilege to keep following his very special journey.