He is 33. Hasn’t won a grand slam in two years. And perhaps, is finally coming to the realization that his chances of winning another grand slam are diminishing all the time. However, that’s not what Roger Federer told reporters at SW19 yesterday. Some people are already calling it that yesterday’s final was his last, best chance at winning his 18th grand slam. Who knows? But what we do know by digging through sporting world’s archives is that comebacks did not quite work out well for these sporting greats (at least)
Ali retired in 1978, soon after winning The Ring & WBA World Heavyweight titles but later decided he wanted to win an unprecedented fourth heavyweight title. So “The Champ” returned to the ring in 1980 to take on then champion Larry Holmes, who handed Ali his only non-decision loss. Ali’s final fight, meanwhile, didn’t end much better, as the Louisville native suffered an embarrassing loss by unanimous decision to up-and-comer Trevor Berbick in 10 rounds at the ‘Drama in the Bahamas’.
Among the most gifted and charismatic athletes ever to lift a racket, Sweden’s Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam singles titles and five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles during his illustrious career. In January 1983, a 26-year-old Borg in the prime of his career shocked the world by announcing his retirement. He dabbled in business ventures, most of which failed. Then in the early ’90s, however, he made a comeback into the pro circuit with his long hair and wooden racket, albeit unsuccessfully. So unsuccessfully that during his first nine matches between 1991 and 1992, Borg failed to win a single set. And in 1993, he won a set off his opponent in each of the three matches he played before finally quitting.
Between 1968 and 1972, American swimmer Mark Spitz won nine Olympic golds (setting world records in each of his seven events at the 1972 Munich Olympics). Immediately after his feat, in ’72, at the tender age of 22, he retired from the sport to pursue a career in sports broadcasting and show business. But at age 41, he decided to make a comeback for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Despite his times being nearly as good as (and in some cases better than) his medal-winning times 20 years earlier, he was two seconds slower than the requisite qualifying time at the Olympic trials.
Michael Jordan is regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time (his merchandise clocks over $2 billion), but his second comeback attempt in the NBA was nowhere near the first. After returning to the Chicago Bulls and winning three straight NBA titles from 1995-1998, Jordan retired for a second time before announcing another comeback, with the team he partly owned, the Washington Wizards in 2001. While he averaged over 20 points in his two seasons in Washington, D.C., Jordan couldn’t propel the Wizards into the playoffs and openly criticized the play from his teammates.
There is also a Formula1 driver, who is deliberately not featured here since he isn’t in a great shape these days. Our wishes are with him.