Buoyed by his record-setting eighth Wimbledon title, Roger Federer warned rivals Monday that he could play until he’s 40, spearheading a late-life era of supremacy alongside Rafael Nadal.
Federer eased past injury-hit Marin Cilic to become the oldest Wimbledon men’s champion of the modern era on Sunday, breaking the tie for seven All England Club titles he had shared with Pete Sampras since his last triumph in 2012.
It also gave him a 19th Grand Slam title in his 29th final at the majors.
With his 36th birthday just three weeks away Federer believes that he could still be playing the tournament when he’s 40.
“You would think so, if health permitting and everything is okay,” said Federer, who won his first Wimbledon title in 2003.
His confidence in his longevity is based on the radical transformation he’s made to his playing schedule since his semi-final defeat to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon in 2016.
He immediately shut down his season, missing the Olympics and US Open, to rest a knee injury.
As a consequence, his world ranking slumped to 17 in January, his lowest since 2000.
But the gamble paid off as a rejuvenated Federer won a fifth Australian Open on his return before adding back-to-back Masters at Indian Wells and Miami.
He skipped the clay court season in the knowledge that a fully-fit Nadal was always likely to dominate the French Open.
Back on grass, Federer won a ninth Halle title before easing to his stunning Wimbledon landmark.
Wimbledon, where he became the first man to win the trophy without dropping a set since Bjorn Borg in 1976, was only his seventh tournament of 2017.
By contrast, the unfortunate Cilic was playing his 15th, so it was hardly surprising that wear and tear contributed to his downfall, albeit in the shape of a humble but debilitating blister.
Federer’s match-win record for 2017 now stands at 31-2.
His appearances on the tour will remain limited.
He hinted he may sit out the Montreal Masters and play only in Cincinnati before an assault on a sixth US Open where he hasn’t won since 2008.
– Eager to play –
As always, it’s a decision he’ll make with those closest to him just as he did when he took his six-month break in 2016.
“I did ask them the question sincerely, to everybody on my team, if they thought I could win majors again,” Federer explained.
“Basically the answer was always the same from them: that they thought if you’re 100% healthy and you’re well-prepared, you’re eager to play, then anything’s possible.
“That’s how it played out, so they were all right. I believed them. I had the same feeling. I think that’s why the break last year was necessary to reassess and get back to 100% physically.”
Federer is also within touching distance of returning to the world number one ranking by the end of the year.
Eleven of the last 14 Wimbledon champions have finished the season on top of the pile.
That list includes Nadal who, despite losing to Gilles Muller in a five-set last-16 epic at Wimbledon, remains one of the year’s in-form players with 46 wins and just seven losses.
The 31-year-old Nadal made history in June with a 10th French Open.
As well as winning the first three majors of 2017, Nadal and Federer have also captured four of the five Masters played so far.
Where Federer triumphed in California and Miami, Nadal swept to victories in Monte Carlo and Madrid.
Highly-rated, but still unproven, Alexander Zverev prevented a Masters sweep by the two old-stagers by winning in Rome.
If Federer and Nadal remain fit, they will start as favourites for the US Open which gets underway in six weeks’ time especially with question marks over the fitness of Andy Murray (hip) and Novak Djokovic (elbow).