Mr. Federer had lost to his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, again – this time in the final of the Australian Open – and the most extraordinary doubt was just beginning to percolate.
What if Federer didn’t win one more Grand Slam? What if he never tied Pete Sampras’s record 14 Grand Slam titles, as everyone had assumed he would?
It was a moment that brought Federer to tears.
Now, 12 months later, it was Federer who reduced his opponent, Briton Andy Murray, to broken sighs and long pauses with a straight-sets victory Sunday, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.
As Nadal struggles with knee injuries, Federer is back in the ascendant. He now holds 16 Grand Slam titles – having won the French, Wimbledon, and now the Australian since his moment of doubt a year ago.
And ahead of him on the court is a new generation of young players now coming into their prime. He has seen two in two consecutive Grand Slam finals: beating Murray on Sunday and losing to Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in last year’s US Open.
For a man now married with young twin daughters, there is little left to accomplish in tennis. Federer acknowledged as much in an interview with ESPN, saying he is not motivated by numbers anymore. He is motivated by the unvarnished desire to continue to compete with the world’s best tennis players, he said.
And on Sunday, he demonstrated that that is more than enough.