January 2, 2019
Roger Federer and Serena Williams just faced each other for the first time on a tennis court.
Incredible isn’t it? Decades on tour, 43 Slams between them, and they had never played.
As they both admitted afterwards, it is one thing to watch a fellow superstar – quite another to come up against their serve.
The Hopman Cup mixed doubles in Perth gave them just such an opportunity.
Before it was too late for the 37-year-olds to show off their best tennis, they faced each other’s ferocity. Both emerged with credit and precious memories.
As Serena explained later: ‘It was super-cool that we got to do it at such a pinnacle-point of our careers.’
Now, after the battle, it seems that Roger and Serena are even more impressed by each other – particularly by those serves.
There were 14,000 in the stadium and millions more watching on TV back home.
But no one was as star-struck and thrilled as Serena. It scarcely seemed to matter that she and her partner Frances Tiafoe lost out to Federer and Belinda Bencic.
Just for once, Serena didn’t mind losing. She was just frustrated that it all went by in a flash.
A crisp Federer serve, followed by a low diagonal volley and it was all over in the second-set tie-break.
Roger was the winning superstar, 4-2, 4-3 (5-3). ‘It was great fun,’ he purred. ‘I really enjoyed playing against Serena. What an honour.’
Serena made the crowd laugh as she gushed: ‘For me it was super-cool, I wanted to take pictures, I wanted to bring my baby out, I was way too excited, it was so fun.
‘It was a great experience. I’m sad it’s over, I was just warming up.’
So we will have to hope it was just stiffness that caused Serena to feel her shoulder several times during the match.
There will be some ring-rust. Even though Serena had enjoyed a good workout when she defeated Bencic 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the singles.
Federer had it easier when he beat Tiafoe 6-4, 6-1. That meant Switzerland edged the USA 2-1 overall.
But it was all about the legends going at it for the first time. Not the result.
When it was over, Serena had a new respect for Federer. If that is even possible.
She explained: ‘This guy is great, both off and on the court. I think his serve is super-underestimated. It’s a killer serve, you can’t read it.
‘I watched him all the time and never knew how amazing it was. Maybe I should get some tips from him later on.’
Federer made it clear that no tips are needed. Serena’s serve had him quaking just as much.
‘I was nervous returning because people talk about her serve so much,’ Roger confessed. ‘I know why they say it now, she has a wonderful serve.
‘She is a great champion, you see how focused she is and I love that about her.’
Mutual admiration between arguably the two greatest tennis players the world has ever seen. And it has been enhanced through direct experience.
What a treat! So early in the new tennis season too. One thing is certain. There will be plenty more treats to come.