Leaving aside the bias evidenced by many Rafael Nadal fans—which includes John McEnroe—Roger Federer never seemed likely to resume his No.-1 ranking.
Yet, as we go into today's match with Novak Djokovic in the men's final of the US Open Series in Cincinnati, we are forced to admit that he fooled us all.
After watching Federer play dozens of matches over the years, it became important to memorialize him quickly. There was a bit of sorrow and a lot of concern over the fact that he may have been finished, and would never be considered the world's best player. That position was reinstated as being either Rod Laver or Rafael Nadal, but not Federer.
It is hard to look back on this year without feeling Federer is actually playing the best tennis of his life. As many tennis players late in their career, Federer has brought his game up after a down period.
There may be a step missing somewhere. But the intelligence and sheer power of his game is enhanced. A look at the accompanying video shows it all. Stan Wawrinka played very well. But not quite well enough, as he was dismantled by some exceptional shot-making by Federer.
Federer must have discovered that tuning his game was essential. He had been staying back for long rallies. But as with all great tennis players, offense is essential and Federer's best offense comes at and around the net.
That this was because of the challenge laid at his feet by all of us who thought he was done, and those who said he was not the best in history, is unquestionable. Federer was, after all, the most competitive athlete of all time, with the possible exception of Secretariat and Michael Jordan. And only one of those is human.
So it was yesterday, as he moved so well and handled his racket better than perhaps any time in history.
A couple of highlights:
Federer moved up toward the net in the first set. Wawrinka spotted this and aimed at Federer's feet on the left side of the court. As if to say, "Do not ever do that again," Federer short-hopped the ball and sent a winner back in the short side of the right side. Point Federer.
At some point, Wawrinka unleashed a 135 MPH serve. It was returned with no problem for a winner by Federer.
Federer's serve seems faster these days, and he appears to be bigger and stronger.
To miss today's final in Cincinnati would be a huge mistake. Seeing No.-1 Federer against No.-2 Djokovic has never happened here. It is somewhat unusual elsewhere, too, in part because of the rankings, seedings and overall quality of tennis being played.
So it is that we should bless our stars we have more Federer. How many were able to see Jordan after his return to basketball do anything close to what he had done in the past? Yet here we are, with the best tennis player in history.
Long Live Federer. There may never be a player like him.