On the face of it, except for their longevity and the success it has spawned, there is not much in common between Tom Brady and Roger Federer. Each plays a widely-different sport, too. Where Brady plays a team event – an American version of football that resembles rugby and Aussie rules football more than the kicking-version of the game, tennis is as individualistic as it is about the individual, who in this case is Federer.
Yet, amid these differences, the two share a commonality of being one among the greatest in their respective sport while leading on the age-wise seniority front among active players. And, after Brady’s decision to end a 20-year-association with the New England Patriots, a new common ground has been established between them.
Both players have not extensively focused on their past but towards their future even if it has meant moving past associations and relationships that were near-synonyms with them. With Brady, it has been about moving on from the Patriots, a team for whom he had played the entirety of his two-decade-long career, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brady the Patriot was more than just a player representing the team. He was their main man, right after – or perhaps, even before – than their chief coach, Bill Belichick. He was the team’s face after its Super Bowl wins as much as when the team seemed to sag, at its lowest.
If other players were variables, coming in and going out, Brady was the team’s preferential constant, belying usual metrics upon which football is gauged. Nonetheless, as the 42-year-old gets ready to start another season in the league, the extension of his career will be annotated by him (potentially) re-stacking his milestones.
And much like Brady getting to walk down this uncertain professional road, Federer, too, trod on this path in the past decade. Unlike Brady though, where the inevitable – about him seeking alternatives for the Patriots – came like a long-awaited epiphany since their early loss in the 2019 season, Federer’s career trajectory has changed like a ride on a Russian Mountain, with the good and the bad clustered closely around each other.
Federer engaged a full-time coach in Paul Annacone after losing in the quarter-finals of the 2010 Wimbledon. After years of playing professionally without a professional coach – with Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi mentoring him – Federer looked to be prompted to take this decision amid heightening calls for his retirement despite just having won the career Slam, a year before.
Federer’s partnership with Annacone brought him on par with Annacone’s former protégé, Pete Sampras’ total of seven Wimbledon titles, in 2012, alongside other, assorted technical tightening.
A year later, the Swiss’ results trundled again and the two decided to end their joint venture, amicably and positively. If Federer seeking Annacone’s help was a big deal, then his roping in of one of his childhood idols, and former world no.
1, and multiple-time Major champion, Stefan Edberg at the end of the 2013 season, was a huge development. Granted, Edberg and Federer could not haul in a Major – or two – but the collaboration netted improvements, both in terms of technical and tactical finessing.
These improvements also coincided with Federer making a focused choice to switch to a bigger, 97-inch racquet frame after having won 16 Slams with a 90-inch racquet-head, in 2014. And, in the past few years, it’s been Federer’s physique that has been flailing making him work hard to fine-tune himself to fulfil his self-expectations.
Yet, the 38-year-old has made it work. In all likelihood – and in a reaffirmation of their similarities – so will Brady. How each maps his route after un-pausing his career will be an interesting legacy to look back on, later.
Either long after each has retired, or mayhap much before, in the search of a moralising tale to emerge from the sport-stifling, Covid-19 infection.