Roger Federer must admit he has lost more than just a step. Picture: Samer Al-Rejjal/Handout via Reuters
Roger Federer must admit he has lost more than just a step. Picture: Samer Al-Rejjal/Handout via Reuters

Nothing left to prove ... It’s time for Roger Federer to bow out gracefully

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Mar 21, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - There is nothing sadder than watching one of the truly all-time greats of sport staying longer in the arena than he or she should. Even Muhammad Ali, the greatest of them all, could not escape the clutches of time. Are you listening, Roger Federer?

Clearly not. Federer, among the greatest to ever play the game of tennis, is insistent that he has another Grand Slam title in him and a few more victories to add to his 1 237 career wins.

He says he is still enjoying the challenge, but four months before his 40th birthday and after 14 months on the sidelines recovering from a knee operation, Federer’s return to competitive tennis ended with a fist to the jaw and not a fist pump.

It was gut-wrenching to experience the master of his profession given a beating by a plodder who has lost more professional matches than he has won.

Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili is ranked 42nd in the world, was on a four-match losing streak and had never gone past the fourth round of a Grand Slam. He has lost 117 matches and won 105. He was playing a legend, with 20 Grand Slam titles, 103 career titles, 28 Masters titles, six Tour Finals and 1 237 wins.

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In fact, throughout a 24-year professional career, Federer had lost more matches (272) than Basilashvili had played (223).

Federer, in his 24 seasons, averages an annual 51 wins to 11 defeats. Basilashvili loses more on average than he wins every year, with 14 defeats to 13 victories. Federer, pre the match, had won $130 million in prize money. Basilashvili had totalled $5 million dollars in eight seasons. The only time they had met was in the Australian Open in 2016 and Federer crushed the Georgian 6-2 6-1 6-2.

And here we were, five years later, with the 29-year-old pretender to professional tennis hammering Federer 6-1 in the second set before taking the third 7-5 in the quarter-final of the Qatar Open.

ALSO READ: Roger Federer pulls out of Dubai event to focus on training

“Fatigue finishes off Federer”, read one headline. Some were a little less flattering of his first tournament in more than a year.

Federer’s brilliant career should never have recorded a headline of losing to a Neville Nobody.

Basilashvili, predictably, described the win as the greatest day of his life and lauded Federer as his idol and the greatest to ever play the game.

Which makes it all so wrong, when a plodder pounds a player of Federer’s pedigree.

Father time waits for no one and spares no one, especially not a 39-year-old who hadn’t played a competitive match for 14 months.

Basilashvili’s demolition of Federer was as awful as watching a 39-year-old fragile Ali lose to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981.

Back then, legendary sports writer Hugh McIlvanney, wrote: “Berbick is the kind of lumbering, slow-armed swinger Ali would have first embarrassed and then demolished in his dazzling prime … To see Ali lose to such a moderate fighter in such a grubby context was like watching a king riding into permanent exile on the back of a garbage truck.”

ALSO READ: Roger Federer loses in second match after return from injury

McIlvanney, who passed in 2019 just shy of his 85th year, has been spared the sight of Federer’s embarrassment in Qatar.

Federer, in defending his decision to continue playing, pointed to a world ranking of six and an appetite to win a 21st Grand Slam.

A few more matches like those against Basilashvili may have him thinking otherwise and for all us Federer fans, the hope is that he calls time on a marvellous career before another Neville Nobody combines with Father Time to send him on his way in the most undignified way.

@mark_keohane

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