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At 38, Roger Federer can still write epics

MELBOURNE – Why does he, this Federer fellow, who owns 20 Grand Slam singles titles, still play?

Why?

Because of Friday night. Because of those five sets against John Millman, which was like a sustained, raw, four-hour three-minute interrogation of each other.

Because Federer's in Australia and Millman is Australian and this should work in the Australian's favour and yet Millman concedes: "I love the support. Roger probably had a little bit more tonight."

Why does Federer, who at 38 is one year older than Andy Roddick, keep going?

Because when he leaves, he perhaps knows, the cheering stops, like someone has amputated the soundtrack from his life. Retirement is silence and shadow and when he goes nights like Friday will never return. There is an implicit understanding that real life will never match this playing life.

Why does he, this father of two sets of twins, still show up?

Because for him playing is possibly like writing was for Voltaire, a pleasure, a habit, a need. Voltaire, writer and philosopher, left behind over 15 million words and Federer has played 1510 matches.

A Federer fan tweeted late in the fifth set on Friday (Jan 24) that she couldn't watch any more, it was too hard, too awful, but then she turned the TV back on, and of course she did because Federer, like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, has earned this act of faith.

Why does he, winner of US$129,231,891 in prize money, still continue?

Switzerland's Roger Federer (above) celebrates after victory against Australia's John Millman during their men's singles match on day five of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, on Jan 25, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

Who knows, really, but perhaps it's because even at 4-8 in the super tie-break, after 82 unforced errors, 48 off his forehand, and six double faults, he can elevate and win six straight points. Greatness is about ascending to a necessary altitude when required.

We envy athletes because they get to experience what only mountaineers do, a different kind of air, where you can't breathe, where heart rates change, where minds seize, and this is precisely what they live for, to see what they can do when in that condition.

Or as Federer said about the end of the match, "The air gets so incredibly thin. And you know that any overhitting, too much risk, or just handing over a point at this moment will cost you dearly. It's a very, very tight balance you have to choose there".

Why does Federer, 21 since he first arrived at this Open as an adult player, still go on?

Maybe because of ego. Because athletes constantly want to prove they're still relevant. Because the idea of sport is to measure yourself — against the next player, against someone higher ranked, against someone who beat you, against yourself.

It's like an endless series of examinations in public and as Naomi Osaka, who lost on Friday, said: "I feel like I get tested a lot. Like life is just full of tests, and, like, unfortunately for me, my tests are tennis matches and you guys see them. So I just have to find a way to navigate through it."

The tests are both exhilarating and yet a weight because champions, by virtue of their standing, are assumed to have the answers, to every question, on good days and off days, against rivals who incredibly find their best selves against them. And it&Read More – Source