When our favourite sports personalities finally decided to call it quits, it more often than not it feels as if they’ve died. The fans go into a form of mourning, but instead of hymns and bible readings, it’s an endless stream of highlights. While there are no tearful eulogies from friends and family, commentators, legends and players are quick to pay tribute.
While sports fans will call anyone over the age of 32 “old”, in reality, when most of our favourites retire in their thirties, they still have well over half their lives to play out. Yet to those who don’t know them personally, it really does feel like you’ve lost them for good.
We’ll never get to watch a jaw dropping play from them again, or see them come up big in the clutch. They’ll never win another trophy, or hold a whole stadiums attention captive. Much like losing a loved one, it feels as if things will never be the same.
The world of tennis this year lost not just one, but two “GOATS” with Roger Federer and Serena Williams both pulling a curtain on their careers and it’s not being dramatic to say the sport won’t ever be the same.
Having not seen much of Federer in recent years due to his body letting him down, we knew his retirement was coming, but when he finally announced it you couldn’t help but be in denial, even non tennis fans had a tinge of sadness. Even his greatest rival in Rafael Nadal couldn’t help but tear up while Federer gave his farewell speech, resembling scenes you would see at a funeral, not a tennis match.
Serena on the other hand saw her athlete life die in a more slowly and painful way. Her tennis IQ was still off the charts and her ever reliable serve was always present, but you could tell she lacked the killer instinct she had always held. Suddenly points that you’d expect her to put away were being left on the table and too many times you would see her let the opponent back into the game.
She always drew an audience, but no longer was she an overwhelming favourite, and while her home crowd tried their best to will her to one last major at the US Open this year, you could just tell that her days as a tennis player were numbered.
While it may be the right time for these two to step away from tennis, similarly to when your favourite TV/movie/book character is killed off, you can only hope that it was a dramatic fake out, or a dream sequence and somehow they’ll be back.
No doubt that over the next couple of years all it will take is a few seconds of footage of Federer or Serena hitting a couple of shots to fuel a rumour of a comeback. Fans of all sports crave a return, the idea of their favourite athlete pulling on their teams jersey again and returning gives a euphoric warm feel to everyone.
Unlike other sports however, tennis is different in the sense that the players don’t have to commit to a whole season, instead it’s possible to hand pick certain tournaments to play in. We could very well see Federer get his body right and unretire for one last crack at Wimbledon or Serena make a return at the US Open.
Serena has already stated that she’s “not retired”, and although it certainly felt like her third round loss at the US Open this year to Australian Ajla Tomljanović, was a farewell of some sort, it wouldn’t be surprising if she makes another appearance at a major.
At the moment however, it certainly feels as if the athlete part of Federer and Serena’s lives have passed away and it’s time for them to move onto their second lives. But there’s just something romantic about a comeback that makes you want to see their athlete lives take a zombie like form and return from the dead.
As great as it sounds in theory to have a legend comeback from the dead to revive their career, sometimes it doesn’t always work out. Just 40 days after calling it quits, the GOAT of the NFL in Tom Brady unretired and after 10 fairly average games this season, you have to wonder if he made the right call.
There’s a reason why the ten part Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, didn’t feature his comeback stint with the Washington Wizards, or why we fondly remember the rumble in the jungle, but no one seems to recall Mouhamed Ali’s last fight against Trevor Berbick when he too came out of retirement.
Sometimes the comeback doesn’t work out and in the end it puts an asterisk on what could have been considered a near perfect career. Maybe it’s best to let these two GOATS careers sail off into the sunset and on to their post playing days.
If we are to see a comeback from either of these two, regardless of how it goes we’ll still remember them as greats. But if this is the end and their athlete lives have been put to rest for good, we’ll never forget everything they’ve done.