Tramlines

Win or lose, Federer remains a must-watch legend

Roger Federer has crashed out of another Grand Slam in humbling fashion. Of course that means it’s that time once again, when the world and his wife wonder if the tennis legend is completely finished.

At the age of 32, with countless injury niggles and a sea of great ATP talent ready to usher in a new era for the sport, it’s safe to say Fed’s peak is well and truly behind him.

Against Tommy Robredo at the US Open, probably the greatest tennis player of all time looked sluggish, out of sorts and completely shot of confidence in a straight-sets exit. He admitted afterwards that he “self-destructed”. Again.

But there’s undoubtedly something enchanting about watching Roger in his full pomp – something that never really vanishes completely from those special few who just have ‘it’. As a result, people will stick around through such a sportsman’s decline, in hopes of another glimpse of that majesty.

From football’s George Best and Diego Maradona to snooker’s Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan, to lay out just four examples, even after a sporting wizard sees their physical capabilities diminish – or just fall out of love with their trade – we continue to track their every move until the day they retire, hoping for just one last flash of their beautiful magic.

Hendry’s 147 in his final World Snooker Championship campaign was almost as memorable as anything he accomplished in a decade of dominance. Maybe more so.

Nobody expected the Scot to win the 2012 title, but that opening day maximum against Stuart Bingham made diehards feel all fuzzy inside and earned as many headlines as O’Sullivan’s fourth title two weeks later.

And when people think of Maradona, they think of Barcelona, Napoli, the 1986 World Cup. And yet, many fans tracked down his wound-down showings in the mid-to-late 90s for Newell’s Old Boys and Boca Juniors.

They weren’t quite as amazing, but there was some sort of added value to seeing an otherwise-throwaway Argentine league game woken up by a sudden solo dazzler from the genius himself in the 58th minute.

So what if it ended 0-0 after 90 tedious minutes? That 10 seconds of brilliance from Maradona would make it worth the effort.

Of course, such an effort is no longer necessary in this day and age. Great moments are retrieved from the fatty bulk and thrown online via YouTube, DailyMotion and other means, free from the constraints of the actual competition and there for lovers of the legends who made us love their sport to enjoy without context.

And that’s why I hope Roger Federer does not pack it in any time soon – he has tons of YouTube moments to offer us, still.

Yes, he may never win another Grand Slam. Heck, even the 2012 Wimbledon success felt a little like a Hendry or Maradona-esque Indian summer. Yes, the list of defeats this year to lesser opposition will likely increase greatly going forward.

But as long as Federer continues to love what he does, so will we.

Eurosport’s expert tennis commentator Simon Reed made a very fair and compelling case after Federer’s run of July defeats. I totally get there Simon is coming from. I just cannot agree with him.

There’s nothing humiliating about carrying on because it feels right. And there’s nothing prideful about quitting just because you’re on the decline.

Some sportsmen and women like to get out while the going’s good, such as Marion Bartoli. Good for her. Only one person knows when someone should stop, and the reasons why they should stop. They see that person in the mirror every morning.

And if Federer does retire soon, because he is feeling the physical toll too much, or he is disappointed at falling behind the pace of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and friends, I think we’ll all respect that.

But I hope he hangs around a little longer. For as long as he wants to pick up a racquet, pull on the headband and entertain his masses of global fans.

Win or lose, he will always do that. Even with just one, solitary, 12-second YouTube clip in a two-hour loss. Federer will always be worth watching.

Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter