Sunday's 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was yet another shining example of Roger Federer's current status as a force to be reckoned with on the ATP Tour. The landmark victory (it was Federer's 100th career ATP final) not only moved Federer back into the current ATP top 3; it also moved him past Stefan Edberg into 6th place on the ATP's all-time win list (with 807), and scooted him past Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras with 6th ATP Championship titles.
But for Federer, who seems to break a slew of records each time he takes his racquets out of his bag, this wasn't about padding his legacy, or stoking a once-burning-brightly fire. Today's win was about the Federer of here and now. His never-ending hunger for competition, his indefatigable passion for the sport, and his belief that he is still a player who is very much in his prime, more than anything else, are what is driving him.
Can a man who has just hit thirty, an age often associated with tennis's version of senior citizenship, still be a terror on the court? Federer thinks so. "It's interesting how you evolve as a tennis player," Federer told reporters after defeating David Ferrer in London yesterday, "For me it's only logical to improve."
Words are one thing, but Federer's play of late is entirely another. The Swiss won his 17th consecutive match today, and after starting the year 3-9 vs. Top 10 competition, he's finished the season by reeling off seven straight vs. the top 10.
That's improvement any which way you slice it, and for Federer it must be doubly sweet, given that he had just recently dropped out of the top 3 for the first time in over eight years. Now, he's back, and today's thrilling cliffhanger vs. the hulking Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stands as yet another testament to that fact.
Still, there are skeptics who'll argue that Federer's re-emergence has been timed perfectly with a pull-back from his competition. It's no secret that both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal hit the wall somewhere between New York and London this season, and it's also no secret that Federer benefited from this.
But it only proves that Federer -- old "codger" that he is -- is finding ways to win in spite of the rousing improvements that Djokovic and Nadal have made to surpass him in recent years. This is what we find so endearing about Federer's recent ascent. He's still as silky as ever on the court, but his recent gains have been due to his maturity. Yes, the fatal forehand is still running full blast, and yes, the feathery touch is there too, but Federer's recent renaissance is more a product of another skill that is vastly underrated in tennis today: the ability to stay healthy.
It may sound simple, but it is not. The essence of Federer has always been his technique: the lightness afoot, the easy power and the ability to shorten points with volleys, flattened-out winners, or aces. Now -- whether by design or good fortune (I'm thinking design) Federer's essence is a big reason that he's able to keep breaking records, even on nights when his twins keep him up until 4 A.M.
It's uncanny. In a day and age where 25-year-olds have great difficulty playing consecutive tournaments, let alone making 30 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals, it seems that Federer doesn't age. Well, we know that he does, but his ability to preserve his body is, at least in the short term, making him appear ageless.
Today was no exception. Even after a scare from the bullying Frenchman, who can overpower anybody when he's hot, Federer stayed calm. Calmer, perhaps, than he has been all year. He won this tight three-setter like he's won so many Grand Slams in the past. By staying light on his feet, and by saving his best for last.
Now we are thinking that maybe his best has yet to come.