Maybe it's fatherhood, the realization that he's now a husband and father of four, that life's responsibilities have suddenly become more complicated, that there are only so many more on-court celebrations to come. Maybe it's the knee surgery that kept him from the game he loves so dearly for so many months -- as long as he's been away from the tennis court his entire professional career. Regardless, you get the feeling Roger Federer is cherishing his time at the very summit of the sport like never before. Whether he's posing for selfies with his rabid 'RF' hat-wearing fans, posting Twitter updates, or raising trophies skyward in Melbourne or Indian Wells, it sure comes off as if it means more to him than ever.
You could see that in his eyes on Sunday as he put the finishing touches on his fifth BNP Paribas Open title, having defeated countryman Stan Wawrinka for the 20th time in 23 meetings dating back more than a decade. Both victor and vanquished would fight back tears in the moments after the final ball was struck in Federer's 6-4, 7-5 triumph.
"Look, sports is emotional. So when you win or when you lose, sometimes it's stronger than you," said Federer, a titlist in his return to Indian Wells after sitting out last year's event. "I like to see it. I think fans like to see it, too, seeing that players actually care a lot about winning and losing.
"The dream run continues," added Federer, whose record 18th Slam trophy came at Rafael Nadal's expense early this year at the Australian Open. "The fairytale of the comeback that I have already shown in Australia. I'm not as surprised as I was in Australia, but still this comes as a big, big surprise to me, nevertheless, to win here again and beating the players that I did and the way I did."
Federer, as fate would have it, had been drawn among the so-called Group of Death, a historically talent-packed quadrant that pooled some 45 Grand Slam titles between himself, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro, not to mention the dangerous presence of on-the-rise newcomers Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev. He'd survive his rival Nadal in straight sets in the fourth round, and benefit from a Kyrgios walkover in the quarters, before booking the final via a 6-1, 7-6(4) win over American Jack Sock.
Even at age 35, it was vintage Federer from first match until final: world-class footwork, flicking down-the-line backhands, and serving as well as he ever has. In fact, Federer would go 42 straight games on serve in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden without being broken until Wawrinka did so to open the second set of the final. In all, Federer held serve in 47 of 48 service games, and faced just three break points altogether in five matches.
"When I came here, what I promised myself was I was going to play with the right energy," Federer told reporters, a monumental Baccarat crystal trophy before him. "It's not always Grand Slam finals. It always starts at zero. You have to get yourself up for the first rounds."
As the emotions crept in during Wawrinka's post-match speech in Stadium 1, an appreciative crowd of 17,382 savoring the authenticity of the moment, Federer tried to lighten the mood, getting his countryman to smile.
It worked. It was another Roger Federer Moment; Basel's favorite son coming through again.
"Everything he's doing on and off the court for more than 15 years now, not only the results he's having but everything he gives back to the fans, to the sponsors, always with a smile, always doing a lot for every tournament he's playing," Wawrinka reflected. And on the tennis court, he's just amazing. The way he's playing is just so beautiful, is just so nice. Everything looks perfect. He's moving amazingly well. He has amazing touch. He's doing everything you can do on the tennis court."