Undefeated: tennis gods play Father Time

Injuries will keep the 34-year-old Roger Federer, seen here at the French Open in 2013, from another date with the tournament. Courtesy si. robi.

Injuries will keep the 34-year-old Roger Federer, seen here at the French Open in 2013, from another date with the tournament. Courtesy si. robi.

Roger Federer’s out of the French Open with continuing injuries, and already the Mark Antonys are out in force to praise and bury Caesar. 

No Fed fan here but, as with Mark Twain, reports of his (tennis) death are greatly exaggerated. Federer will never retire, because being a player on the ATP tour – as opposed to what John McEnroe calls the old fogey’s tour – is at the core of his identity and because Feddy fans, including The New York Times, would have a nervous breakdown. Already the planets are spinning backward with Novak Djokovic’s name being thrown into the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) ring.

And what of Nole, who turns 29 Sunday? (And a happy birthday indeed.) He looked invincible over the winter but like a god with feet – and feats – of clay in the spring, falling in the second round in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and losing to Andy Murray in straight sets at the Italian Open in Rome. Last year, he played better in the spring, winning in Monte Carlo and Rome while bypassing the Madrid Open, which he entered and won this year. Last year he was unstoppable, demolishing Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris, only to lose a heartbreaking final to Stan “the Man” Wawrinka. This year, he looks less than perfect – which may be a good thing.

“He definitely needs it; there’s no doubt,” said Jim Courier, a two-time French Open champion. “Novak would not be considered the greatest player of all time, which he has a chance to be, if he’s not able to win it.”

Will the 12th time be a charm for Nole in the City of Light – or is the French Open destined to be the one that got away, as it was for his hero Pete Sampras? Does it loom too large for him? Or have we in the press – as per Courier’s comment – made it loom too large?

Questions, questions and always uncertainty. Does the Italian Open win against Nole mean Andy Murray – who just turned 29 and Happy Birthday, Andy – has finally tipped the balance in his favor in the Novandy rivalry? Or is Andy destined to be the Exaggerator to Nole’s Nyquist? (For that matter, can Exaggerator beat Nyquist Saturday in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course? That’s a whole other post.)

And what of Rafa – who is back but not the Rafa of old as he gets set to turn the big 30 on June 3 (and Happy Birthday to Rafa)? If Rafanole has its date with destiny in the semifinals – which would be epic as this is the greatest rivalry tennis has yet produced – can Rafa prevail and then out-duel Andy or Stanimal in the final?

If Andy and Stan get to their projected semifinal, can the winner out-sling Rafa or Nole?

Or should they call the whole thing off and settle for a nice doubles match?

Meanwhile, don’t forget the young guys – emphasis on the word ‘young’ – like the hot Dominic Thiem and surging Nick Kyrgios. They could upset the Big Four/Five.

The only thing that is certain is what Paul Annacone, Fed’s former coach, observed in The New York Times. Speaking of Feddy – who has reached the main draws of 65 straight Slams, a record that The Times has seen fit to remind us has helped establish him as “the most successful men’s player of the Open era” – Annacone said.

“He’s wrestled Father Time to a stalemate so far, and I hope he can keep Father Time in check a little while longer. But we all know who’s undefeated.”