Ever since winning his first Wimbledon title in 2003, Roger Federer has found himself to be the star of world tennis. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic continue to rival the legendary Swiss both on and off the court but it is Federer who not only remains one of the most high-profile names in sport, but also remains in the top two of the ATP World Rankings, despite taking the entire clay-court campaign off to prepare for a few weeks on the grass. It could be perceived that a true top sportsman will be prepared to compete on all surfaces - even at the back end of his career - but the simple fact remains that Federer is still better than the rest despite limiting his appearances on the tour.
There is a logic as to why Federer is still at the top of his profession. The 36-year-old - who will turn 37 in August - has taken the steps to maximise his performances and to protect his knees, an area with which he has had issues during the latter stages of his career. However, there is a science behind Federer's decisions, too, as described by Jeff Bercovici who has produced a book called Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age. The logic that we have previously mentioned only goes so far, and journalist Bercovici feels that the style of play, recovery and rest periods of Federer surpass the efforts of a number of other sports stars who are also defying age in their chosen profession.
Over the past decade, tennis fans have been treated to arguably the greatest era in the history of the game, and there was a time when Federer's general form began to become inconsistent and a period emerged where he went 15 Major tournaments without success - by far the longest streak since claiming his first Wimbledon title. However, the period out after knee surgery following his exit in the semi-finals at the 2016 staging of Wimbledon has effectively resulted in the resurrection of Federer at a time when his fiercest rivals are struggling for longevity.
Nadal has dealt with injury issues during the peak time of his career but over the past 12 to 18 months, each of Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka has spent long spells away from the court to recover from surgeries. Djokovic underwent an elbow operation, Murray had hip surgery after other treatments failed to have the desired effect and Wawrinka had a procedure on his knee which also led to months away from the court. The demands of the tour and playing more matches than everyone else has naturally taken its toll on the trio - as well as Nadal - but their playing styles are more explosive and demanding on the joints than the way that Federer glides around a court. As Bercovici suggests in his book, there are many lessons to be learned from Federer, both at the top of the sport and all the way down through the levels of the game.
Federer is a phenomenon and as he heads into Wimbledon, he remains 50 points off topping the world rankings and is the only player of 34 or above to feature in the top 20. Federer's playing legacy will remain untouched but as Bercovici points out, the Basel native is now becoming a role model on a more human level as players - and sports competitors in general - look to make the most of their ability and fitness.