In his 2006 New York Times essay, the late David Foster Wallace described Roger Federer as "a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light".

Hyperbole is especially common in sports writing, but the use of religious imagery with Federer has always been more acceptable given his impact on tennis.

Beyond the records that everyone knows - the 17 grand slams, 88 titles and 302 weeks as world No. 1 - the Swiss master has twice shifted the sport's paradigm.

The first time was in the mid-2000s when he prevented what Wallace called "the evolutionary endpoint of tennis" by combining contemporary baseline power-hitting with traditional finessed shot-making. And doing so beautifully.

Those elements - and his insatiable quest for perfection - created the template that subsequent greats Novak Djokovic, who has since elevated the standard of tennis again, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray had to emulate to succeed.

The second shift that can be attributed to Federer's enduring brilliance - and, in turn, the Big Four's - is that the men's game is now one dominated by those of a certain vintage.


Five of the current top 10 are 30 or over - a landmark that Djokovic and Murray will reach within the next 12 months.

It never used to be the way.

Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title in 1985 at the age of 17, while John McEnroe failed to add to his seven slams once he turned 26.

Federer has not won a slam for four years, but the 2014-2015 version of himself - winner of 11 titles and runner-up at Wimbledon (twice) and the US Open - would have been a match for the player he was 10 years earlier.

The 2016 edition, however, would have struggled.

That is because Federer, perhaps inevitably, has started to suffer the sort of injuries he had previously managed to avoid throughout career.

The 34-year-old has played only sporadically since undergoing knee surgery shortly after reaching the Australian Open semi-finals in January.

A back injury curtailed most of his clay-court season and caused his withdrawal from the French Open, ending his remarkable sequence of competing in 65 successive slams in the process.

Having played the Masters 1000 in Rome the week before Roland Garros, however, one suspects Federer would have pitched up in Paris had he had a realistic chance of triumphing.

Instead, he sensibly switched his focus to the slam that he not only has the best chance of winning, but the one he has always craved the most: Wimbledon.


Since then, though, his grass preparation has not especially gone to plan.

Federer's competitive return was in Stuttgart - an ATP 250 event that he would not have played were it not for needing match practice - where he lost in three sets to the talented Dominic Thiem in the semis.

He then suffered another last-four defeat in Germany the following week, this time to Alexander Zverev - another emerging star - in Halle.

That one felt more significant because the tournament is typically Federer's last Wimbledon tune-up. He has won it nine times and had reached the final in his previous 11 appearances.

Obviously, two narrow losses after an injury-hit campaign does not mean the player who remains at No. 3 in the rankings is done.

It does, however, mean that he arrives at SW19 without an ATP Tour title for the first time since 2000.

And while the heady days of winning two or three slams a season are long gone, the regular title wins and second places to Djokovic have been enough to keep Federer content.

That will soon cease, though, should being turfed out by upstarts become a regular occurrence.

The expertly media-trained Federer said those displays in Stuttgart and Halle provided him with "clarity" as to where his game is at.

But it is how he performs at Wimbledon - his self-confessed "Holy Grail" - that will be most enlightening.

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