So, Roger Federer is back -- despite dire prophesies about the nature of his slide, which was believed to be terminal.
Why did we dare to judge the one who's beyond judgement?
Perhaps we do await, with morbid anticipation, the signs that show that a sporting god's demise is imminent. Perhaps we wish it to be reiterated that the skills of the hands, the quickness of the eye and feet, that turn a man into a god have limited life. Perhaps we wish to see signs of vulnerability in great men, so that we could love them more, as humans.
In the case of the "ailing" game of Roger Federer, the diagnosis has proved incorrect. His game still dwells among the living -- much above them, in fact, as he proved on Monday in New York. Federer's game will go, eventually, but for now it's very much among us.
The Wimbledon final, the loss to his implacable pursuer Rafael Nadal, was supposed to break the spirit of Federer -- much like what happened to Bjorn Borg.
The Wimbledon finals over the last two years -- Federer winning the first, Nadal the second -- seemed to portend Federer's end. It seemed an echo of the passing of the baton from Borg to John McEnroe, in 1980-81. The news that Wimbledon is not yours any more seems to break the spirit of players. Borg grew a disaffection for the game, which proved fatal to his prospects as a player. He returned -- wielding a wooden racquet even as the others moved to graphite -- and was reduced to a curiosity in the exhibition circuit.
To obituary-writers, this historical context provided a temptation impossible to resist -- that Federer, an even-tempered European like Borg, a year older than what Borg was when he retired in 1983, must tread the same path.
In 1981, Borg lost again to McEnroe, at the US Open, which confirmed he was not No. 1. That broke him. He walked out of the stadium before the awards ceremony began, an uncharacteristic solecism.
Federer, though, seems a tougher man. In his crucible of the US Open at New York, he showed that he's not done yet. He showed he retains the game that made him invincible.
But there was something wrong with his game, wasn't there? This year, he had reached the finals of two Grand Slam events and the semifinal of the third before the US Open, but he had been ambushed by near-anonymous types.
It seems possible that, just as the signs of his downfall were over-emphasised, the fact his game suffered due to glandular fever through the year was largely discounted. Doctors say that the virus that causes this malady can ravage the body, affecting it for months. With this backdrop, Federer's year turns from horrible to miraculous.
After his win over Murray, for his 13rd Slam, Federer said, "I felt like I was invincible for awhile again". It would have been interesting to know how he would have felt if it were Nadal and not Murray across the net.
That will happen sooner or later, and that will be the test of the longevity of Federer's A-game. Till then, we, his devotees, must rejoice that the Master still rules the tennis world.