The old guy, Father Time, will triumph in the end. He always does. But for the moment Roger Federer is holding serve against him, which in a sport primarily of the young is no small achievement.
Federer has come to terms with reality. “If I can’t play for No. 1,” he said three days ago, “I’ll play for winning titles.”
He won his 78th, third best all-time behind Jimmy Connors’ 109 and Ivan Lendl’s 94, a week ago at Dubai. And Saturday on an 83-degree afternoon at Indian Wells he made a start toward another, defeating Paul-Henri Mathieu, 6-2, 7-6 (3), in the BNP Paribas Open.
Federer is 32, five years older than Rafael Nadal, the current world No. 1 and defending BNP Paribas champion, and six years older than both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. All won Grand Slam titles in 2013.
Which Federer, who has a record 17 Slam championships, did not.
For Federer, bothered by a back issue and questions of his future, a second-round loss at last year’s Wimbledon followed by a fourth-round defeat at the U.S. Open seemed as jolting as his tumble to seventh in the world rankings after years at No. 1.
Surely he was done.
Not at all, as it turned out. Federer, currently ranked eighth, made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open in January and then had the victory in Dubai, over Tomas Berdych in the final after defeating second-ranked Djokovic in the semis.
“I don’t feel old either,” said Federer, “because there are so many guys playing who are my age now.”
Not necessarily the ones ranked above him, but certainly others. “The youngest guys are usually 21, 22 years old,” he said “So, no, I don’t feel like we’re being pushed out. It’s really we are going out on our own terms.
“The last years of my playing days may not be one year or six years. I don’t know yet. But I want to take it a bit easier. Enjoy it a bit more.”
Defending women’s champ Maria Sharapova definitely enjoyed her match against bewildered Julia Goerges of Germany, scoring a tidy 6-1, 6-4, victory.
Li Na beat her teammate from China, Zheng Jie, 6-1, 7-5. “First time to be the top seed in a big tournament,” said Li. “Yeah, at least I’m still in the tournament.”
So are Murray, a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 winner of Lukas Rosol, and Federer’s fellow Swiss, third-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka, the Aussie Open winner, who defeated Ivo Karlovic, 6-3, 7-5. Nadal overcame a tough start to defeat Radek Stepanek, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
The Americans — Sam Querrey, Tim Smyczek, Michael Russell and Coco Vandeweghe — are not. In a theme repeated often these days in tennis, U.S. players didn’t last very long, other than Serena Williams, who once again did not enter this event.
Querrey, who grew up in Thousand Oaks but now lives in Las Vegas, fell to 29th-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
At age 26, Querrey would seem to have doubts about a career that never quite reached the expectations of some. When he turned pro in 2006, forgoing a scholarship at USC, Querrey was considered the next great American player.
“Sam understands how to play the game,” Patrick McEnroe said at the time. “He understands how to use the court and how to move for it. He’s got a big serve, a very big forehand, a good two-handed backhand. And he’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
Those virtues have never lifted him higher than 17th in the rankings, and now he is 57th.
“I really should have won that,” Querrey said of the match against Seppi. “Pretty bummed. I’ve just got to find that rhythm, find that confidence again and, you know, start winning some matches.”