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Roger Federer crash an echo of worn-out Muhammad Ali

Switzerland's Roger Federer leaves Centre Court after losing his Wimbledon quarter final match against Poland's Hubert Hurkacz. Photo: Edward Whitaker/Reuters

Switzerland's Roger Federer leaves Centre Court after losing his Wimbledon quarter final match against Poland's Hubert Hurkacz. Photo: Edward Whitaker/Reuters

Published Jul 9, 2021


CAPE TOWN – Type into Google “Ali's last fight”, and this is what you will get: “Despite pleas to definitively retire, Ali fought one last time on December 11, 1981, in Nassau, Bahamas, against Trevor Berbick, losing a 10-round decision. By the end of his boxing career Ali had absorbed 200 000 hits.”

That fight is on YouTube and if you love Muhammad Ali the boxer, as much as I did, and you haven't watched it, please don't go there.

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It is awful to watch and as a fan of boxing's greatest, you will feel powerless and an emptiness.

Cue tennis's Roger Federer and Wednesday night's Wimbledon quarter-final. If you love Roger Federer, the tennis player, as much as I do, and for some reason you missed that night's defeat, never watch it, and if you did, then I know you would have felt a similar nausea.

ALSO READ: Roger Federer's dream of ninth title in tatters after Hubert Hurkacz mauling

Federer, 40 years old in a month, lost in straight sets to Poland's Hubert Hurkacz. It was the first time in 19 years at Wimbledon that Federer, the winner of Wimbledon a record eight times, had lost in straight sets. It was also the first time that Federer, the winner of more than 100 matches at Wimbledon, had ever conceded a set to love at Wimbledon.

Everything on Wednesday night about Federer screamed an ageing imposter presented in the guise of an in-form icon. It was so Ali-like for that ill-feted final 10-rounder against Berbick in the Bahamas.

Federer, who struggled in the first round and looked like losing, advanced because of an injury withdrawal, had somehow battled his way into a 58th Grand Slam quarter-final and become the oldest player in the professional era to reach a quarter-final. This in itself is a remarkable feat, if we weren't talking about a men's player considered the finest to play at Wimbledon, an artist on grass and a poet with his range of stroke play.

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ALSO READ: 'My last Wimbledon? I don't know': Roger Federer crashes but 'won't be rushed'

Federer had missed a year of tennis recovering from knee surgery and in a few warm-up tournaments had been toppled by players not fit to tie his shoelaces.

“Please go now Roger,” was just one of the several columns I have written in the past few months. I just didn't ever want to see what happened at Wimbledon on Wednesday night, but it happened.

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Read our ultimate spectator’s guide to Wimbledon 2021 digital magazine below.

Federer, in that third set, looked like a qualifier playing his first match on the grand centre court, not like the player who could easily claim the centre court to be his backyard.

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Hurkacz, at 24 years old, is 15 years younger than Federer, and he was just 6 years old when Federer won Wimbledon for the first time. Yet here he was destroying Federer in what he described afterwards as the greatest victory of his career.

I had heard a few players (none ranked among the game's elite) say that in the past few months, but just like Berbick knew he was beating an imitation of Ali and not the real deal. Deep down, Hurkacz will know that he beat a man named Roger Federer and not Roger Federer, the master and winner of 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

Federer, two years ago, had defied Father Time and was a shot away from a miracle Wimbledon final win against the current world number one Novak Djokovic. Federer, with two match points, and serving, somehow imploded and lost the fifth and final set 13-12, seven-three in the tie-break, in the longest ever Wimbledon men's final.

That match along with his title triumphs are the memory of Federer, just as Ali will forever be remembered for the trilogy against Joe Frazier, the one-punch knock-out of Sonny Liston and the Rumble in the Jungle upset of George Foreman.

When you think of Ali, you think of victory.

When you think of Federer, you think of the Wimbledon titles.

But just like with Ali, there will forever be YouTube footage of Federer that talks about his mortality and the day Father Time gave him a beating.

I so wish it wasn't there.

Mark Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media Sport.


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