Just nine months ago, it seemed like we were witnessing the beginning of the end for Roger Federer.
Sitting at No. 3 in the world behind in-their-prime stars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Federer had not won a major championship since the 2010 Australian Open and looked resigned to semifinals ousters for the rest of his career.
And finally in his 30s, the timing seemed right for Federer to be singing his swan song and help usher in the Djokovic/Nadal era.
Though youthful in both life and nearly every other sport, 30-year-old tennis players are even less reliable than their equally aged NFL running backs. For even the greatest players in tennis history, that 30th birthday might as well come with a shuffleboard set and a coupon to the early-bird special at Sizzler.
John McEnroe. Ivan Lendl. Bjorn Borg. All without majors in their 30s. Remember when the tennis community went into a conniption fit when Pete Sampras won the 2002 U.S. Open? He was 31 years old.
Federer at 31? A rejuvenated force that regained his No. 1 ranking after his record-tying seventh Wimbledon championship, and is in the midst of the most impressive season of his storied career.
Federer's six championships on tour this season nearly double every other competitor and are his most since his double-digit 2007 campaign.
Currently rampaging through the 2012 U.S. Open as the prohibitive favorite, Federer hopes to lock in his first major stateside since 2008. And if he does so, it would not only cap Federer's best season on tour, but be one of the most incredibly improbable runs of all time.
Even a quick glimpse at other current stars can signify the difficulty of Federer's 2012 campaign.
Former world No. 1 Andy Roddick, who is one year Federer's junior, has been relatively noncompetitive since 2009, and this week, he announced that the Open would be his last professional tournament.
Current world No. 3 Rafael Nadal, once the supposed heir to the Federer throne, is just 26 years old and may have less time on the court left than Federer due to chronic knee problems.
None of this affects Federer. He's healthier than most 19-year-olds, and despite losing some speed and dexterity, the Swiss star's experience and confidence make those deficiencies negligible.
Just look at Federer's brazen confidence from his pre-Open interview.
I think I felt good last year, but probably felt that maybe at times the matches were not always in my racquet, whereas maybe this time around I feel like if I'm playing well I can dictate who's going to win or lose.
It's going to take something special from my opponent to win. That's kind of how it feels right now.
That sounds like a 25-year-old man in the midst of his prime, not someone who should be doing his victory lap around the ATP circuit.
If Federer takes home the U.S. Open trophy, this season will be his greatest accomplishment as a tennis player. And yes, that includes Federer's 2006 campaign where he went 92-5 for the season, winning 12 titles on tour and reaching all four major championship finals (winning three).
That year is widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis seasons of all time. This year would be better.
Not better as in more dominant because, well, of course not. But better in the way that defies all expectations and cements Federer as the greatest tennis player of all time.
In the end, Federer's early round dominance may simply be a great player taking advantage of lesser talent, and he may start looking his age as the tournament wears on.
However, if Federer can keep this up through the finals and win at Flushing Meadows, we're witnessing a feat that will likely go unaccomplished again for a very long time.
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