Time for Djokovic and Murray to follow evergeen Federer's ageless example


Time, as the old saying goes, catches up with us all eventually.

It is a statement that is especially true in sports. Every era of greatness must end for another to be ushered in without a second's pause for sentiment.

But Roger Federer is a man that has seemingly manipulated the rule, carefully negotiating his time to ensure that he remains at the top of the mountain in spite of those that may have written him off.

Cast your minds back 12 months ago. The great Federer waved farewell to his adoring Centre Court crowd having lost a five-set thriller to Milos Raonic in the Wimbledon semi-finals.

It would be the last time Federer was seen on a competitive tennis court in 2016 as the Swiss maestro succumbed to a knee injury, for which he required surgery earlier in the year, that needed a prolonged period of rest. 

Federer had already missed the French Open that year and the Olympics and US Open were also a no-go. For the first time since 2002, the world's top 10 did not include his legendary name.

Time, it seemed, had finally caught up with a man whose graceless elegance on court has given the impression that he is ageless.  

And yet Federer continues to confound logic.

The time spent away from court seemingly brought a fresh energy to Federer and his already record haul of grand slam titles was increased to 18 at the Australian Open, where he defeated old foe Rafael Nadal - a man whose own injury woes are well documented - in an epic final that seemed as though it belonged in a different decade.

It was as though the time spent away from court was an eye-opener for Federer, who now carefully selects which tournaments to play and which to sit out.

His shrewd decision to voluntarily miss the entire clay-court season, including the French Open, will have pained him.

But it was undoubtedly the right one. His only victory at Roland Garros came in a year in which the King of Clay Nadal did not make the final. By contrast, he is a seven-time champion on the Wimbledon grass.

A year ago, Federer fell to Raonic. On Wednesday, he completely outclassed the Canadian in straight sets in the quarters and it would take the bravest of gamblers to bet against him winning a record eighth title.

Put simply, Federer has listened to his body and recognised what steps he can take to defy time and add to his sizeable trophy cabinet. 

Perhaps it is a lesson that should be heeded by Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

Just seven months ago, no one could have predicted the fate of either of these tennis behemoths.

Murray had usurped his great rival as world number one, but it seemed unfeasible, almost impossible, that Djokovic would fail to recapture the form that saw him become the alpha male of the big four.

And yet, two major tournaments have passed and a third will soon be gone and neither player has had their name engraved on a grand slam title in 2017.

Murray's Wimbledon defence came to an end against Sam Querrey, Djokovic's own vanquisher 12 months prior, as the effects of a hip injury that threatened to rule him out of the tournament caught up with him.

Nothing should be taken away from Querrey's achievement - he more than deserved a maiden grand slam semi-final spot courtesy of a brilliant five-sets win.

But Murray's mobility was clearly hampered as the match progressed and the Briton spoke openly about now having to meet with his team to discuss how to address the issue long term.

Djokovic was equally candid when facing the media having retired a set and a break down in his tie with Tomas Berdych.

The Serbian had shown signs of discomfort in the previous round as Adrian Mannarino was dispatched, and the pain was too much to continue against Berdych 24 hours later.

Djokovic blamed a scheduling backlog - brought on by Nadal's epic fourth-round loss to Gilles Muller - for not having enough time to recover, but his admission that it is a problem that has plagued him for 18 months offered an interesting insight into an elite sportsman's psyche.

The desire for glory is so strong that the thought of resting to heal the pain is seen almost as a weakness.

But Federer need only serve as an awe-inspiring reminder that to preserve their time at the top, they must also preserve their bodies.

The ATP Tour is a long, gruelling campaign and with both men now in their 30s the ability to recover from such demands will inevitably only become more difficult.

However, if Murray and Djokovic follow Federer's example, and consider reducing their jam-packed schedules, then perhaps they will evade time's cruel clutches for the foreseeable future.