Andrew Mulligan: Long live the king!

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Federer is not yet ready to call time.
Roger Federer broke the sponsorship mould for the modern player. Photo / AP
Roger Federer broke the sponsorship mould for the modern player. Photo / AP

By the time you read this, Roger Federer will booking first-class tickets for himself and his family to their next destination. Despite the semifinal defeat to Novak Djokovic, he loves it. "It" being his career.

Call it a decline, call it the twilight but he's not ready to call time. Too many greats have felt the pressure to leave because they were no longer dominant.

Tennis is one of those sports that looks lonely. Golf, cricket and tennis have an air of individualism that relies on strength of character. Cricket especially belies the notion of a team sport because when you're out of form no one can really help you but yourself.

Federer seems never to have any doubt about his greatness. He's the ultimate "humble-bragger" - someone who knows they're great, drops it into conversation and then shrugs and moves on.

He loves the prestige of the tournament, he still earns millions - no, make that squillions - and is still consistently in the top five, if not the top three, but for some reason people believe he should retire.

He hasn't won a Grand Slam since 2012, an Aussie Open since 2009 and a US Open since 2008.

So why does he keep going? He's still great. Earlier in the week when he advanced, he even reminded on-court interviewer Jim Courier, himself a winner of four Slam titles, that his era was easier compared to what Federer has to contend with.

The art form that is the Federer single back-hand was as crisp as it has ever been before the semifinals, his drive and tenacity still evident.

There was a quote floating around this week that caught the eye. It's attributed to Federer; it could be made up but was in response to why he still plays when Novak Djokovic is clearly the best player coming into the Australian Open after a monstrous 2015.

"Sometimes you're just happy playing. Some media, unfortunately, don't understand that it's okay just to play tennis and enjoy it. They always think that you have to win everything, it always needs to be a success story, and if it's not, obviously, what is the point? Maybe you have to go back and think, 'Why have I started playing tennis?' Because I just like it. It's actually sort of a dream hobby that became somewhat of a job. Some people just don't get that, ever."

While clearly a victim of his own success, the narrative of "when will Roger retire"? is now dead and buried. His career isn't now defined by the number of Slams he adds to his 17 or if he regains the No1 ranking and beats Djokovic.

It's about fun. Legend has it that when Federer turns up to the ATP end-of-year party, the party literally stops. The players are not so much in awe of him but see him as the king of tennis.

Federer took the game and made it mainstream for a range of endorsement offers, prize money and lifting the profile of tennis overall. Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker were all high profile but Federer broke the sponsorship mould for the modern player.

- NZ Herald

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