Roger Federer's decision to play mixed doubles with Martina Hingis at the Rio Olympic Games demonstrates that there's no end to his Olympic spirit. But will the all-time Grand Slam singles champ's love of the game and Olympic pageantry torpedo his chance to fill the last outstanding hole in his dazzling resume?
"I'm very excited about [playing with Hingis] because I haven't played with her I guess in 15 years," Federer told reporters at a press conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. "I looked up to her when I was younger. I thought she was the most unbelievable talent.
"Every Olympic Games has been super ... amazing experience, an eye-opener, a great learning curve for me, seeing other athletes, getting inspired and motivated, carrying the flag is such a proud moment in my career and my life."
Federer has played singles in all four Olympic meetings since the 2000 Sydney Games, but he's never won a singles gold medal. In fact, he's won just two medals, which is a relatively modest haul given his status. Federer won doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in Beijing in 2008, and silver in singles at Wimbledon in London in 2012. The latter, a runner-up finish to Andy Murray, who rolled through Federer in straight sets, may be relevant.
Federer was 31 years old at the time, but fatigue played a role in that loss. Olympic tennis features daily play, and Federer had been extended to 19-17 in the final set of his three-set semifinal win against Juan Martin del Potro. Federer didn't play mixed in London, and he and Wawrinka had lost early in the doubles. Yet he was still feeling somewhat rubbery-legged in the gold-medal match on that familiar Wimbledon grass.
"If I were still his coach, I would have just asked him what his priorities were." Paul Annacone, Federer's former coach
Since then, the Olympic committee has adopted the third-set tiebreak. That will help Federer's cause. But will it compensate for four years of age and, potentially, a much heavier workload? The organizing committee's website has already worked out that Federer might have to play as many as 15 matches in eight days in Rio -- all that at 35.
Tennis in Rio will be played in nine consecutive days on hard courts in temperatures that are generally in the 70s. The men's final will be best-of-five; all other matches will be best-of-three. The mixed doubles will be decided by match tiebreak if the teams split sets. Sure, it could be worse. But still -- anyone entering all three events will be biting off a lot in Rio.
Federer is well aware of all that, which raises the question: Is he more interested in savoring the Olympic experience one last time than in plugging the last hole in his resume with gold?
"If I were still his coach, I would have just asked him what his priorities were," Paul Annacone, Federer's former coach, told ESPN.com. "Are you in Rio for the experience, to enjoy it all and take any medal you can get and not think too long-term, about the singles gold or about the US Open? If so, then go ahead, play all three. But if your priority is to win the singles I would advise against playing all three. Pick just two."
Federer's decision to do it all may have been shaped somewhat by the fact that the Swiss have the makings of an exceptionally strong tennis team, one that the Swiss newspaper Le Matin has already rather unoriginally dubbed a "Dream Team."
Even Severin Luthi, the Swiss Davis Cup captain and perhaps Roger Federer's most-trusted adviser and coach, got caught up in the hype. Not ordinarily a man given to bombast, he told the Swiss newspaper, Le Matin, "The goal for the 2016 summer games is to win all the gold medals. Why not? We can always dream."
Perhaps Federer just got swept up in the vibe. Let's go with the flow. Dream team. Cool.
It isn't idle hyperbole, either. Not in the wake of Federer's decision. Federer and Wawrinka both are legitimate contenders for gold in singles and as a doubles team. Hingis is a doubles/mixed genius. Rapidly developing Belinda Bencic is a potential Grand Slam singles champ -- and a more than adequate doubles partner for Hingis or Wawrinka. And the Swiss also have Timea Bacsinszky waiting in the wings.
As for that elusive gold, maybe Federer really meant it when he told reporters in Dubai:
"Winning the gold with Stan, meeting [my wife] Mirka in Sydney 2000, getting the silver in London, it felt like I won gold, but I was still very happy and it was incredible the combination to win the Olympics at Wimbledon, it was just ... maybe [it will] never happen again in my lifetime, so I really cherish that moment."
If Federer really feels like he already has singles gold and has won the Olympics, Rio will be more like a career victory lap. The real question becomes: What happens next, Mr. Federer?