Roger Federer is joining the over-the-hill club and for those of us who are long-time members, it's no fun to watch.
At 31, Federer is a young man by any other standard. But in professional sports, especially the grinding game of tennis, Federer is approaching retirement. Worse, he's coming up against that wall we all hit when the body starts to rebel against the mind.
After a shocking loss to No. 55 Daniel Brands in front of a Swiss crowd, Federer spoke about a nagging back injury. He told the Hindu Business Line, “In the last 7-10 days I could hardly practice. This made it difficult to prepare properly. I decided to play so it’s no excuse."
Ah, the bad back. It's the quintessential old man's injury. Almost any weekend warrior recognizes the "Ow, my back!" pose. It's so synonymous with "old guyism" that a silhouette of the pose should be placed on court-side benches.
Federer even spoke of taking anti-inflammatories just so that he's able to practice. Nothing says, "damn I'm old" like an ongoing relationship with anti-inflammatories.
Unfortunately for Fed, it's the beginning of what will become a growing list of aches and pains. The older you get, the more stuff aches. Walking aches, stretching aches, bending over aches, standing up aches. Playing tennis against guys 10 years younger and five steps faster hurts like hell.
Mentally, Federer is probably as sharp or sharper than he's ever been. But even in this age of hyper nutrition and new-fangled fitness routines, eventually we reach that point of diminishing returns.
It's natural—expected. However, with someone as iconic and accomplished as Federer, the aging process seems surreal.
Watching Federer at this stage in his career conjures up images of Christopher Reeves in Superman II, the one where Superman decided to go human. It was sad to see the man of steel get pummeled by a beer-belly bar bum.
Like Superman, Federer's powers seemed to disappear over night. Last year, Federer was Wimbledon champ. Now, he loses to people we've never heard of. His latest defeat came at Gstaad to Brands. It was Federer's third consecutive tournament ouster to a player ranked outside the top 50.
We knew this day would come. That doesn't make it any more pleasant. Seeing perhaps the greatest of all time look like a mere mortal reminds us how quickly the body can turn on us.
How unfair. Even a lifetime of rigid workouts and years of abstaining from double cheeseburgers cannot keep father time from taking your body hostage.
There's no negotiating.
Sure, you vow to train harder. But when father time takes up residence in your joints, it's over.
It must be tough for Federer, who still has the most flawless strokes in the game, to know he's a superior player to these no-name dudes he's losing to. How frustrating it must be for him to see a slate of tournaments ahead that he doesn't even feel healthy enough to practice for.
Anybody over 30 can sympathize. Those over 40 have begun adjusting. Athletes over 50 have eased into acceptance. People balling over 60? God bless them.
Whether recreational warriors or former high school superstars, anyone who once soared athletically and now finds themselves coping with the achy aging process, can identify with a faltering Federer.
We feel his pain.