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Why This Weekend Was So Special

We don't often get to turn back the clock.

30/01/2017 4:00 PM AEDT | Updated 30/01/2017 4:01 PM AEDT
Reuters
"It was even better than it used to be."

It was all so 10 years ago...

Serena had won another Australian Open. She'd beaten her sister, Venus. Roger was back in another Grand Slam Final and, once again his opponent was his greatest nemesis, Rafael Nadal.

Everything was as it has so often been. Yet for those of us who have watched these four great tennis champions throughout their careers, it was different. It was a gift.

You see, you don't often get to turn back the clock. Sometimes you dream of it. Sometimes you are reminded of it. Often you reminisce about the good old days and wish you appreciated it more when it happened. But on this rare occasion, in our own backyard, it was given to us. A throwback to days gone by when our favourites ruled the tennis world.

And because we all suspected it might be a one-off for old time's sake, we were able to savour it and lap it up. Every single shot. Every lasting moment.

It had been eight years since the Williams sisters had contested a Grand Slam Final. Rafa and Federer last met in a Grand Slam Final in 2011, at Roland Garros. In those days it was the norm. We expected it to happen again, and again, and again. And then it stopped.

Stephane Cardinale - Corbis via Getty Images
"I'll get you back in Melbourne in five years time."

Since then a couple of other 'greats' have emerged, such as Novak Djokovic, who has won 12 Grand Slam titles of his own. Eleven of them have come in the past six years. In doing so, his dominance has taken some of the gloss off the Roger and Rafa show.

And therein lies the reason this weekend was so special.

Some of us prefer to remember our heroes at the peak of their powers. There was a time when Roger Federer had no peer in the world of tennis. His Grand Slam tally rattled past Laver and Emerson and Sampras and then he added a couple more for good measure. In 2012, he won his 17th major at Wimbledon.

And then, somehow, so inexplicably, the Grand Slam titles stopped coming.

Between now and then others have entered the conversation about exactly who is the Greatest of All Time. Federer's foe and friend, Rafael Nadal, is at the heart of the conversation. So, too, is Novak Djokovic. Federer's Grand Slam tally is superior to both, but as the years have progressed, he's lost to them more often than not.

And so it is that we've wondered if Federer should have hung up the racquet a while ago, while at the same time marvelling at how much he loves the game and how competitive he remains as he marches through his 30s.

Federer is 35. In tennis terms he probably peaked 10 to 12 years ago. Nadal is 30. Djokovic is 29. The age gap between Federer and the others is not insignificant. I wonder, if they were all the same age and all played against each other when they were at their peak, who would have won?

It is difficult to know exactly when Serena Williams peaked. She's now 35 and has collected 23 Grand Slam titles. It seems a certainty that she'll match and then pass Margaret Court's record of 24.

Julian Finney via Getty Images
With a name like Court...

Amazingly, Serena also has 14 Grand Slam doubles titles to her name. It's a testament to her durability and her love for the game. The fact she still loves playing doubles with her sister, who is 36, says much about the joy the game brings them both.

Serena's often maligned and many suggest the quality of her opponents over the years has been poor. I tend to think that's rubbish. She is a once in a generation player, head and shoulders above the rest.

Which brings me back to Federer. He was, once upon a time, clearly the best player in the game. Now things are not so clear cut. Nevertheless, I wonder how many players could start a tournament with 127 mostly younger opponents, win seven matches in a row, three of which were contested over five sets, and be crowned a Grand Slam champion at the age of 35?

Perhaps in five years Nadal will be able to do it. Perhaps, in six years, Djokovic will too. But perhaps they won't. The end can sometimes come quickly.

I didn't think Federer could do it again either. But then again, I didn't think Rafa could come back from injury to reach the final. And I didn't think Venus Williams had a snowflakes chance in hell of making another Grand Slam final.

POOL New / Reuters
Venus doesn't just hug the baseline.

But there you go. Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. For this weekend at the tennis, it was all so 10 years ago.

And it was even better than it used to be.

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