Federer, Serena, cut above others

The ultimate joy in sport is in watching its purveyors raising their art to unachieved levels. The 2017 Australian Open tennis championships offered a sumptuous treat in that respect, with Roger Federer and Serena Williams, the men’s and women’s singles champions, delivering a masterclass to get the season off to a rollicking start. In a tournament replete with amazing tales of resilience and top-drawer tennis, Federer and Serena stamped their authority with their age-defying heroics. The Swiss master and the American ace are both 35. The march of the young brigade and the effect of injuries had often stalled them in their tracks in recent times. But in Melbourne last weekend, they were a cut above while carving out record feats.

In defeating her sister Venus in the final, Serena went past another legend of the game, Steffi Graf, whose 22 Grand Slam singles titles had been the benchmark for excellence and athleticism in the professional era. Serena, with her power and aggression, has taken the game to an altogether different plane, becoming the dominant figure in women’s tennis. The last season, though, marked a low for her as new champions made their mark on the Grand Slam firmament, knocking her off track. But as her performances in Melbourne showed, the dip in form was only temporary and she now looks primed to overhaul Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

Federer, for long the record-holder for most Slams among men, had slipped out of the world’s top 10 due to an injury-enforced absence for the last six months. The artist among racquet-wielders had spent close to five years without a Grand Slam title but in a wonderful two-week period in Australia, Federer treated his fans to an ensemble of magical shots that only he can conjure to return to the top of the podium. Circumstances conspired to take out two of his big threats – Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – in the first week itself but Federer had another comeback man to conquer in the final, a warrior who had often dashed his plans on the big stage. By revealing a steely will that had often been absent when facing his Spanish bugbear Rafael Nadal, Federer applied a special lustre on his 18th Grand Slam crown. Certainly, time will have a say on the maestro’s career sooner rather than later and as such, the trophy Down Under seemed a gift his beloved sport had preserved to bestow on its finest champion. Tennis has rarely been this captivating in recent times and as the season rolls on, the world would expect more of the same, with two of its shining ambassadors at the forefront.

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