Wimbledon cancellation means sporting mortality beckons even for Federer and Williams

The greats of the men and women’s game would be very close to 40 if they chase Grand Slams into next summer.

ODDLY ENOUGH, WHEN Wimbledon time rolled around each year, it dragged with it a trawler load of wistful memories of a time when we didn’t have to go outside anywhere or do anything.

A rainy Irish summer.  The weather always seemed better in SW19, though a large part of that climate perception was down to our ignorance of the subtly positioned ‘R’ within a pristine yellow ball to signal that the BBC were broadcasting a replay.

Hold on, have I seen this?

Was it yesterday or last year?

Better watch two more games to be sure.

It didn’t matter. They were the good old days, the Tim Henman days when the white knight and crowd favourite was a boy-next-door type who always seemed to be battling adversity no matter how obscure and unfancied his opponent was.

tenniswimbledonhenman Source: PA

In Ireland, we could take some amusement from the audible frustration that grew in the Wimbledon crowd when Henman reached the semi-final stage. They seemed far happier to offer their loyal devotion to a peerless genius who played each stroke with a serenity that screamed destined for greatness.

The boy next door became the courtside presenter, replaced in the limelight by Roger Federer – he of the bouncy hair and personalised blazer that gave him the air of an 80’s teen villain archetype. The Johnny Lawrence to Henman’s Danny La Russo, except he seems quite sound.

Sporting drama is always dressed in more vibrant colours in childhood, yet the era that followed for Wimbledon continually felt as though week one was about as meaningful as Queen’s.

Over the course of 180-odd points, the 80/1 underdogs mostly stayed down. The movie stars in the royal box high-fived, the sun-hatted regulars bravoed and basked in reflective glory as the Big Three took hold in the men’s game. And none were bigger than Federer.

The Swiss legend tweeted simply, ‘Devastated’ after organisers this week confirmed that Wimbledon 2020 was a non-runner.  The French and US Open have been the least fertile ground in his illustrious career – imagine, only six Grand Slams won between the two – and he will turn 39 if they go ahead as scheduled later this year.

It’s Wimbledon where he has forged his legacy, where he beat Pete Sampras, won his first Grand Slam and matched Bjorn Borg on his way to eight titles.

upi-20190320 Source: UPI/PA Images

If there is a Federer fairytale, that is where it would have to end. However, he is currently working his way back after knee surgery and when Henman Hill will be fully populated again, he will be 41 days shy of his 40th birthday.

It seems unthinkable that sporting Titans like Serena Williams or Federer would bow anywhere other than the big stage, but mortality beckons even for the greats.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

The landscape is remarkably similar for Williams. Six weeks younger than Federer, she has been rallying against time as she chases down the record of the reprehensible Margaret Court.

24 Grand Slams is the magic number of Slams Williams has been hunting since defeating her sister Venus in the 2017 Australian Open final. Pregnant on the run to her 23rd, she has powered her way to four Grand Slam deciders since, but fallen agonisingly short of a historical mark through defeats to Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu.

Wimbledon plays less of a central role in the story of Williams’ era of dominance.

She has won just as many Australian Open titles (seven) and six at Flushing Meadows. Perhaps, then, the US Open then would be the fitting backdrop for a Williams show-stopper? 

If the tournament goes ahead that may be the case, but swathes of indoor space around the Arthur Ashe Stadium is currently being transformed into a makeshift hospital as New York is being ravaged by Covid-19.

Lessons of the Coronavirus shutdown should be better-heeded by now. It has no respect for fairytale endings.

About the author:

Sean Farrell

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel