There is that moment in which an athlete ages before your very eye and you wonder, is this the end of a great career? I’ve seen this in boxing where a fighter literally ages in front of you, where punches seem slower and often misses their target when a year earlier, they connected with ease. When Roger Federer lost to John Millman, it was more than a shock, the audience witness a great Tennis player age in front of them.
Federer won the first set with ease and appeared to be winning the second set before he got broken and then lost in the tie breaker. Throughout the final three sets in which he lost everyone, there were times that he had Millman on the rope only to let him off the hook and unable to finish off his opponent. The old Federer would have won this match in three sets against an opponent that wasn’t even ranked in the top 50 before the US Open.
On a hot and humid night, it was Millman who looked fresher as the match continued and it was Federer who looked sluggish and slow. The Federer of old melted in front of us and the Old Federer appeared. Maybe what made this performance shocking was that for the past two years, he had won three of the previous seven majors along with Nadal who also won three. He made it to the finals of Cincinnati, the last big ATP hard court tour before the Open, where he lost to Novak Djokovic. On this night, the heat and a determined opponent who was playing the match of his life combined to evaporate Federer skills.
Federer looked 37 and the audience watching the match were more stunned than anything and even Millman acknowledge he hit Federer at the right night, not gloating about his victory but thankful that this night, he caught a Federer on a bad night.
For many pundits it may be too early to declare Federer old and career over when one view the past two years in its totality but there are those moments, you look at athlete and wonder, when does father time nail you?
In Peyton Manning final year as a Bronco, injuries and age combined to slow a great career. The year before, Manning completed 66% of his passes, had 39 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions but in the Bronco championship year, he threw only 9 touchdowns and had 17 interceptions and was benched for a few games in favor of Brock Osweller who took over for Manning against the Chief on November 15th. He replaced Manning for rest of the year before Manning came back in the last game to lead the Broncos to victory.
Manning won his second championship that season but he was not the reason, the Bronco defense was. Manning at this stage of his career was no longer the catalyst for Broncos offense but left to manage the team while the defense pounded the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. In 2014, Manning was still the great Manning but by 2015, injuries and age combined to take a once great quarterback into a utility quarterback looking over his shoulder at his back up.
Federer against Millman looked like the Manning of 2015 while spending much of the past two years looking like the Manning of 2013 and 2014 that played for the Broncos. Is this the end of Federer as we know him? Good question but the Federer that we saw at the US Open finally look like an old Federer who finally reached that point in his career where father time told him, “No Mas.”