LONDON (TNS) — This was one of those fine and elegant Centre Court days when Roger Federer didn't just look like the best of all time in men's tennis, he looked like the best we've had in any sport in his time, from Tom Brady in pro football to LeBron in basketball to Serena Williams on her side of tennis, even back to what Tiger Woods once was in golf. This was one of these days, in a last act of his remarkable career that we didn't think he would even have a couple of years ago, when Federer did things on the most famous tennis court in this world that just made you laugh.
He was not going up against one of the top guys. The second-round opponent was a young guy from Slovakia named Lukas Lacko, who played well enough across the first two sets to get four games off Federer in each. But it was in the middle of the second set — as Federer began a run of eight service games in a row when he didn't lose a point — that he began to give the people at Centre Court what they wanted, which was simply one more day like this, watching Roger Federer do so many things on a tennis court that only he's ever been able to do.
After it was over, and he'd won 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 and was into the third round and very much alive to win his 9th Wimbledon, someone asked him in the interview room why he loves to play on these grass courts as much as he obviously does.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe it's that it helps my slice. That maybe the footwork on grass comes easier to me than for other guys. I'm not sure. Then because I have a decent speed on the serve, and I can serve kick and slice. Maybe also the grass helps me just a little bit to get a few more free points than what it would on some other surfaces."
In this way, he makes the impossible and sometimes the quite magical sound like the simplest thing in the world. He eventually finished the match with flair and even arrogance. The second-to-last point was a forehand drop shot that does not even do that shot justice, at least not the way Federer hits it. He looks a little like a sidearm pitcher in baseball and a little like a man twisting a key in a lock and then the ball hits the ground like a pillow hitting a bed. Then he followed that up with a different kind of forehand, one he dug out of the grass and hit so hard past Lacko it must have sounded like a smoke alarm.
This was an afternoon when three of the greatest champions in the history of the place — Federer, Serena, Venus Williams — turned Centre Court and Court No. 1 into the All-England Tennis Club for the Aged. Venus turned 38 last month, Federer turns 37 next month, Serena turns 37 in September. All they did was bring 50 major singles titles with them to this afternoon at Wimbledon, and 20 Wimbledon singles titles. In that way, there has never been an afternoon quite like this, one all about age and aging gracefully, and even relentlessly.
Venus won in three sets, Federer and Serena won in straights. Even with all that, with Serena trying to win her first major title since the birth of her daughter last year, trying to win Wimbledon for the 8th time, the headliner was Federer, who has won his own 20 majors at a time when Rafael Nadal has won 17 and Novak Djokovic has won a dozen. Serena has won more majors than Fed, you bet. But Federer has won more majors than any man in tennis history in an era when Nadal and Djokovic were in their own rather immense primes.
This is what it would have been like in the NBA if Michael Jordan and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant had all been in their primes at the exact same time. And if you are looking for a statistical comparison in what has happened and has continued to happen in men's tennis, know this about those 49 majors Federer-Nadal-Djokovic have won: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe won 26 among them.
Somehow, 10 years after Nadal beat Federer in one of the great finals in Wimbledon history or all tennis history, Federer and Nadal are still 1 and 2 in the world, still seeded 1 and 2 here, and have won the last six majors. It is why everybody who has loved this rivalry and who loves this sport wants to believe they can play one more big final, on Centre Court, 10 days from now. If we can gets Cavs-Warriors four straight times, why can't we have Fed-Rafa one more time on Centre Court?
We will see about that. For now, the place was just happy to see Roger Federer on Wednesday, playing games like the one he played in the fourth game of the second set, showing you his whole act, slices and topspin from both sides and this amazing low backhand volley and finally a wide, chalk-spraying ace to end that game.
Long way to go for him. We'll see what kind of legs he has the second week, when Rafa might be laying for him one more time. But on Wednesday at Wimbledon, Roger Federer was still Roger Federer. GOAT of all the other GOATS. No joke.