Inspired by the age and injury-defying antics of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, last Sunday I asked my Radio Two audience to share experiences or challenges they had undertaken when they were considered ‘past it’. I was overwhelmed by the response. Those in their 60s doing Ironman triathlons, the 70-pluses cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a woman in her 90s doing regular yoga and dance classes, those who had taken up tap dancing and another learning the flying trapeze.
They all proved that age is just a number, not a prison sentence that shackles you to the sofa. Both Federer and Nadal must have feared their best days were behind them. They had even talked about playing exhibition matches for charity and yet, through a combination of talent and tenacity, there they were late on a Sunday night in Melbourne slogging it out for five sets.
Federer said afterwards that tennis was a cruel game as it didn’t offer the option of an honourable draw. With Nadal, he’d have taken it. As it was, he came back from a break down in the fifth set to win his 18th Grand Slam title.
There are many joys to watching these two – Federer’s seemingly effortless flow when he is in the zone, against Nadal’s relentless, frenetic fighting spirit. Their rivalry has enriched a sport that relies so heavily on the dreaded word ‘personality’. With only two people on the court, it really would be no fun watching robots bash balls at each other.
You could have got 5,000-1 at the start of the tournament if you had predicted a Federer/Nadal final as well as a Williams sisters decider and both felt like a blast from the glorious past. Serena won her 23rd Grand Slam title and, in doing so, could enjoy it in the company of her big sister. I always think Venus brings out the best in Serena and their mutual respect says more than any outsider could communicate.
Andy Murray may be smarting from an early departure but the good news is that Federer, at seven years older, is rewriting the book on how to flourish rather than fade with the passing of the years.
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