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Why Federer's achievements defy reality

From ESPN - July 17, 2017

In his moment of doubt, wondering how much of a future he still had in tennis after repeatedly falling short in Grand Slam finals, Roger Federer turned to his support team of family members, trainers and coaches. He asked them for an honest answer to the question every player faces when his body begins to give out, his production stalls and the pages on the calendar seem to be flying by.

Do I still have it -- can I still win a major?

"Basically the answer was always the same from them," Federer told the media Sunday, after winning his second Grand Slam title of the year (19th overall) at Wimbledon. "[They said] that they thought if you are 100 percent healthy and you are well-prepared, you are eager to play, then anything's possible."

Sounds simple, but remember that when Federer asked that question he was rapidly approaching 35 on a bad knee. He prepared as best he could, but no matter what he did the results just were not there; he'd lost in his past three Grand Slam finals. And he was anything but eager to soldier on after Milos Raonic steamrolled over him and his aching knee in the 2016 Wimbledon semis.

In fact, Federer was so dejected he decided to call it quits for the year.

That's when he asked the question. That's when his devoted wife Mirka, coaches Severin Luthi and Ivan Ljubicic and others expressed the confidence that he repaid in spades Sunday in London. When all the factors are tolled and put into context, Federer's resurgence in 2017 will take its place in the Comebacks Hall of Fame.

Federer said he knew he could play "great" again one day. But even he did not dare imagine that it would be with a upper-case "G." He said he might have laughed if someone told him he would win two majors this year, telling his interlocutors, "I guess you would have laughed, too."

But here he is again. And thanks to his dazzling 31-2 record, he's on track to have one of the greatest years anyone has enjoyed. He also will by vying with his career nemesis Rafael Nadal, another player reborn in this astonishing year, for the year-end No. 1 ranking.

That contest is something neither Federer nor Nadal had anticipated. Nadal is almost five years younger than Federer, but he grinds through his matches while Federer skates over them. Nadal has suffered more career-impacting injuries than the Swiss star, which makes his own renaissance this year comparably remarkable. Like Federer, Nadal has embraced a trio of priorities: remain healthy, enjoy the journey and win another major, or more.

Becoming embroiled in a dogfight for the No. 1 ranking has been the furthest thing from either player's mind. That's one reason Federer skipped the entire clay-court segment and the French Open and Nadal chose to forgo grass-court tune-up events for Wimbledon. But Federer, up to No. 3 in the latest world rankings behind No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Nadal, has always been keenly interested in tennis history, especially the chapters he is writing. Thus, replacing Andre Agassi as the oldest player ever to finish the year at No. 1 has come to have a sneaky kind of appeal.

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