Planet Earth remains irretrievably in love. It doesn't want Roger Federer to fade. It doesn't seem to yearn for new faces. It wants that face to abide as visible.
That's why Dubai just became the site of a big helping of giddiness. That's why women in headscarves high-fived each other near courtside on Saturday night and Swiss flags bounced in the stands even if their holders weren't necessarily Swiss. That's why Federer's championship smile, resurfacing on the first Saturday evening in March, seemed to have widened and deepened since last glimpse.
Those aesthetes for an athlete, the abundant Federer fans you run across all around the world, they have themselves a fresh moment here. All of a sudden in 2014, they have a desirable question that spent 2013 dormant.
Could there come another Federer incarnation?
It wouldn't have to be too commanding, wouldn't have to be too lasting, but it might just be enough to stir a Federer resurgence into a men's sport long since frothing. It might make some moments for the man with two nationalities -- Swiss and Earth -- and that might make some goose bumps plus, here and there, a tear.
The Federer connoisseurs are, after all, in love.
They dealt with slightness and human reality through 2013, when an understandable wane did seem in earnest. After 61 titles and 24 final berths through the 2000s, then five and four in 2010, four and two in 2011 and a hefty six and four in 2012, Federer had one and two in 2013. This did not count as a travesty. It does not really even count much as news when a 31-year-old man turns 32 and can't do as he did six years prior. Federer's two closing Grand Slams went second round and fourth round. Everyone either forgave or should have. It's part of life.
Well, he already matched both those numbers from 2013. He already won in Dubai a title more considerable than winning Halle on grass as in 2013. He already reached two finals. Toss in a semifinal showing at the Australian Open. Add in wins over the Nos. 10 and 4 players there, the latter (against Andy Murray) a gorgeous-looking thing. Mix in what just happened at one of the big sub-Grand Slam perennials in Dubai, when from the strange frontier of a No. 8 ranking Federer won from behind against No. 2 Novak Djokovic, then won from behind against No. 6 Tomas Berdych.
He already said this to reporters after beating Djokovic: "Certainly it's not best-of-five (sets), certainly it's not the finals of some whatever tournament, but this is big. This is a big step in the right direction for me. Gives me a lot of confidence, I hope."
To watch the final against Berdych was to encounter the newfound pleasure of watching Federer in 2014: the idea he might go up and volley. He might not volley often, he might not always volley well, yet ever since he brought on as a coach one of the all-time maestro volleyers, Stefan Edberg, Federer might volley, and that lends each point a fresh sense of possibility.
In the unforgettable fourth-round win over Pete Sampras at Wimbledon 2001, a 19-year-old Federer converted half his 62 trips to the net. That high-brow clash boasted two serve-and-volleyers vying for the airspace above around the net. Through the ensuing years, Federer then retreated court-wise to the volley-lessness that washed over the game, and you might say it worked out pretty well for him (17 Grand Slam titles). You also might say that sometimes the reality of the game robbed us of the view of his full array.
You can't serve-and-volley in this era, of course, unless you're out there to get a close-up view of successful passing shots screaming by. Yet maybe you can incorporate the volley in the right places for the right reasons. As Berdych served at 6-3, 4-5 against Federer, Federer got to love-30 by luring Berdych to the net, then blowing a forehand on by. On the love-30 point, though, Federer rushed in to send a high-difficulty, high backhand volley into the corner where it stayed untouched.
It was a beauty of a point, and the aesthetes in the seats approved. They wanted to see more, so they got a third set, which in turn showed they might get to see more still, more Federer than they might have thought they'd get to see in the long-term. They don't mind this thought.