Until the very end he remained an immaculate assassin, a study in unhurried, pristine elegance.
Until the very end he remained an immaculate assassin, a study in unhurried, pristine elegance, stained neither by time nor toil.
What Shakespeare conjured with words, the Swiss invoked with a racket of graphite and string.
His rivals played tennis, Federer recited poetry.
He made serve and volley rhyme.
In sport’s most steaming cauldron, the sauna of five-set commitment, he declined even to perspire.
Few assassins ever fired the killshot with such refinement or poise.
As he advanced on his Zen journey, departing from lay life and approaching a state of transcendence, Federer transformed a rectangle of clay or grass into something resembling a Buddhist temple.
A place of almost spiritual calm.
Fitting then that when, in 2006, the late, great American writer David Foster Wallace would pen a remarkable profile of this tennis god, the New York Times would choose the headline “Roger Federer as Religious Experience”.
The numbers – the first man to win 20 Grand Slams, 310 weeks as world number one, a career that stretched into his fifth decade – are arresting and yet they form a mere fraction of the whole.
For it was not the glory that Federer accumulated, but the aesthetic cape in which he cloaked the tennis world. He elevated his chosen code to art-form, time and again delivering the kind of masterpieces which ought to have been framed and hung from the gallery walls of the Louvre.
It was as if time moved slower for this son of Basel. Where the equally immense Nadal snorted and rushed and always seemed in a hurry, Federer seemed to stroll and sashay.
He was serenity made flesh, all self-assured grace, a supermodel gliding down a Milan ramp in the latest immaculately tailored Prada blazer.
At his best, he executed cross court backhand winners with a murderous artistry.
The shots he conjured would win not only tennis tournaments but beauty contests.
Yes, there were days when he was overwhelmed by Nadal’s unquenchable desire or Novak Djokovic’s Slavic athleticism, but even in defeat he retained a champion’s bearing.
Few living beings ever appeared so utterly unflappable.
Had he been on the Titanic when the iceberg struck, he would first, with untouchable calm, have gathered his racket and belongings, making sure to stop before the mirror in his cabin bathroom to make sure his headband was just so.
Then as the ship listed and panicked creatures were devoured by frigid seas, he’d have ambled along the deck like a man sauntering the beach on a summer eve, and without a drop of Atlantic spray splashing his Gucci loafers, he’d have walked across the water to New York City.
The illusion of effortlessness – for of course it was a toil for him to push his body to the brink for so many years – and the way he seemed immune to the debilitating strain of the passing decades was his calling card.
That and his unbreakable composure.
He might have been fashioned from quartz in the precision workshops of his native land.
Federer shared the traits of expensive Swiss timepieces: Tag Heuer calibration, Breitling correctness, the Rolex grandeur that permits it to haughtily stand apart from, and above, the rest.
From every immaculately groomed pore, he oozed that intangible we call aura or charisma.
When he walked onto Wimbledon’s Centre Court, it was as if he was the only person in the room.
Every eye was magnetically drawn to a creature so perfect it was as if he had been photoshopped; his presence brought to mind the old Hollywood image of the matinee idol.
He was George Clooney with a killer drop-shot.
Foster Wallace touched upon his otherworldly qualities.
“The metaphysical explanation is that Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws.
“Good analogues here include Michael Jordan who could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows.
“Federer is of this type – a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar.”
Nadal (22) and Djokovic (21) have won more Grand Slams, but, still, much like the mighty Matterhorn on his homeland’s Italian border, Federer towers above the rest of the field.
Not just for what he achieved, but for the way he did it.
He even made the game sound different, the music of racket on ball distinct and inexplicably more melodic when he was the source, original and somehow better, like the notes that emerged from a saxophone when it touched the lips of Charlie Parker.
For the longest time, longer than any athlete has a right to expect, he seemed untouched, or at worst lightly scarred, by the war between advancing years and enduring talent.
But, of course, the ticking clock gets everybody in the end.
And so, a month after his 41st birthday, after a professional career that began before newly crowned US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz was even born, he exits the stage.
His body is, after all, mortal. But his achievements are imperishable.
Just as Laurence Oliver on the Old Vic stage remained eternal for all who bore witness, so Federer at work in his 78x27 foot playhouse, whip-crack wrists making magic, will endure.
What a sight he was.
The matador who remained stainless even as, with one more elegant, unhurried flourish, he plunged the sword into his opponent’s heart.