ATP

Federer at 40: As a landmark birthday arrives, what might the future hold?

By Sports Desk August 08, 2021

Roger Federer turned 40 on Sunday amid uncertainty over whether he will grace the stage of a grand slam again.

Both he and Serena Williams, who reaches the same birthday landmark in September, have kept their future plans under wraps.

However, it would come as no surprise now if one, or both, were to retire by the end of the year.

Injuries are taking their toll, and even the greatest champions cannot go on forever.

Stats Perform looked at both Federer and Williams, considering what they may still want to achieve, and their prospects of attaining those remaining goals.

 

Federer's final fling?

Ahead of his 30th birthday, Federer was asked what it felt like to hit such a milestone.

"Birthdays happen. They're part of life," Federer said. "I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest. To me it's a nice time."

A decade on, Federer has good reason to be satisfied with life as he chalks up another decade. Family life is good, he'll never need to borrow a dollar, and he has advanced from 16 grand slams to 20.

But the knees would sooner be 30 than 40, and Federer, remarkable sportsman though he is, looks to have entered the lap of honour stage of his career – if he can even complete such a lap.

Two knee operations in 2020 were followed by a setback that ruled him out of the Olympics and will also keep him sidelined for the Toronto and Cincinnati tournaments before the US Open.

Will Federer make it to Flushing Meadows, where he won five successive titles at the height of his career? There has to be doubt over that, and should he indeed be an absentee in New York, what is there left to target? The Laver Cup, perhaps, a tournament in which he is financially invested and which is due to be played in Boston in late September.

Would he play on in 2022? Could he tolerate more long road trips without his family, living in a tennis bubble?

Target: Federer has never settled for second best, and it may have dawned on him at Wimbledon that in all probability he no longer can win a grand slam. Losing a 6-0 set to Hubert Hurkacz on the way to a quarter-final exit would have hurt. The hunger does not go away after 20 grand slams, but Federer's battle-weary body is sending him messages. He will want to go out on his own terms, which means getting fully fit.

Prospects: Assuming the knee issue is not a major problem, and more of a niggle, then Federer could still play the US Open, Laver Cup, Indian Wells and Paris Masters this year. If the mind is willing but the body does not comply, however, then it would not be a shock to see him call time before the Australian Open comes around in January.


Serena still one short of Court

From precocious teenager to queen of the tour, Williams' tennis journey has been a 25-year odyssey and there is nobody more driven to succeed than the great American.

It is an intense frustration that she remains rooted on 23 grand slams, one short of Margaret Court's record haul, and the four grand slam final losses she has suffered while on that mark have been cruel blows.

As her 40th birthday approaches on September 26, prospects of matching Court are fading. The leg injury that cruelly forced her out of Wimbledon in the first round was a harrowing turn of events, given she looked primed to be a big title challenger in London.

She is becoming less of a factor when looking at title favourites, but Williams is still capable of beating top players, still a threat wherever she shows up. It comes down to whether the body lets her chase her goals, and whether the pain of so many near-misses in recent years persuades this great champion the exertion is no longer worth prolonging.

Target: The 24th slam has been the must-have for Williams. Tour titles feel like an irrelevance, and Williams has won just one of those since January 2017, her calendar built around peaking for the majors since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia.

Prospects: Beating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep at the Australian Open demonstrated Williams still has the game for the big stage, and a semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka, to whom she has now lost in three of four encounters, should not particularly detract from that. Wimbledon felt like a golden opportunity, with a host of major rivals absent and others struggling for form. There is no doubt she felt that way. Getting to 24 – and beyond – has shifted from feeling like an inevitability to being an odds-against chance now.

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