Signs lately point to a fountain-of-youth aspect to Roger Federer's tennis. The man he defeated, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, Monday night, in beginning pursuit of a possible sixth U.S. Open title, is Young only in name (American Donald Young) and chronological years (23). Federer, on the other hand, has come to this Grand Slam event -- his 52nd in a row -- as something of a tennis Ponce de Leon.
At 31, he is ranked No. 1 for the 293rd week (the equivalent of more than 5 1/2 years) of his career -- longer than any man in history. A seventh championship at Wimbledon last month increased his record of major singles titles to 17. His trophy for winning the tour stop in Ohio two weeks ago was his 76th tournament crown. For a decade, he never has been ranked lower than third.
There had been a few rumblings of his inevitable decline, but that talk "has gone away a little bit," he said, "because I have been winning a lot of tournaments" -- six in 2012. "I kind of felt it was just a thing that people were going to ask me over a certain period of time, and then eventually let it go. The same as with [Andre] Agassi and with Pete [Sampras] and guys who hit 30 but keep on playing."
Federer went nine consecutive Grand Slam tournaments without a title, between Australia 2010 and this year's Wimbledon. But in six of those, he advanced at least to the semifinals. To have questioners associate his birthday count with those results "doesn't make you feel older," he said, just as winning Wimbledon again didn't make him feel young again.
"Not really," he said. "I'm happy where I am. I don't need to be 25 again. I'm very happy to feel my age."
It's just that the rest of the tennis world isn't convinced he is feeling 31.
"I think he's the youngest 31-year-old ever," said Brad Gilbert, former player and coach and current tennis commentator. "He's younger at 31 than [Rafael] Nadal is at 26. And I think he can take a lot of stock in what Andre did about six or seven years, seeing somebody that played great until he was 35.
"Roger takes amazingly good care of his body and he never gets injured. And he paces himself unbelievably, doesn't overplay and seems to know when to take breaks. He never looks stressed on the court. He barely even sweats."
Patrick McEnroe, the former pro who now serves as U.S. Tennis Association player development chief, attributes the sustained phenomenon of Federer magic to "talent . . . work ethic, and his ability to brush off both the wins and the losses.
"He's had these crushing losses in big matches, like to Djokovic last year in the Open, where he could easily say, 'Man, a couple of swings here and there and I would have 21 majors.' But he somehow manages to just let it happen. He never dwells on either the negative or the positive, [although] he certainly uses the positive when he gets on a roll and gets the confidence going."
Right after he won Wimbledon, Federer was asked if he would be around for the 2016 Olympics and said he would. "I was joking," he said last week. And then . . . "It's feasible," he said.