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HERB BENHAM: Welcome back

A couple of days ago, Roger Federer played his first tournament match in 14 months. The first logical question, and I am not offended, is why should anyone, outside his rather large and passionate group of fans, give a darn?

It’s been a year. No one has to tell us that. If you’ve been alive, this has been a year to remember.

Good things, bad things and all the things in between.

I hope we’re better people, if anything we’re wiser people in regard to predicting what the next day, month or year might bring. If nothing else, we’ve learned that lesson.

It’s the lesson that reads, “Man plans and God laughs, laughs some more and then life spins in whatever direction it pleases.”

In the last 14 months, Federer who is now 39, has had two arthroscopic knee surgeries. Successful or not, two in a year is challenging for somebody who is returning to play world-class tennis against players six, eight and 20 years younger.

No one has ever played at the level Federer has for this long —103 ATP titles, 20 Grand Slam Titles, Olympic medals and Davis Cup victories. Tennis, because of the way it is played from the backcourt, requires an excruciating amount of lateral movement and lateral movement is not kind to an older player in any sport.

Easier to go forward and back than side to side. Federer has done both more gracefully than any player in history but nearing 40, this is a big ask.

Federer beat England’s Dan Evans in the second round of the tournament in Qatar. Evans is ranked in the top 30 and is in good form.

Federer was visibly tired in the third set and barely squeaked through. Afterward Federer, who is always gracious, (one more among many reasons to admire him) thanked his opponent for having played 20 practice sets with him in the last couple of weeks prior to the tournament and said win or lose he was glad to be back.

Not everybody can say that and sound like they mean it.

We are glad too and it’s partly due to our belief in athletic fairy tales. We’d like to imagine that Tom Brady, LeBron James, Clayton Kershaw and Roger Federer can perform like this forever.

Ours is both a dodge and a harmless conceit. If they don’t get old, maybe we won’t either.

If they do age, then this is something we can do together because it’s good to have company.

“Company” because although we may have separate orbits, there are similarities in our lives: They have kids, we have kids. They have jets, we have jets. They have 10 houses and we are bound and determined to pay off our house by the time we are 85.

With Federer having returned to the court, it’s another sign that we are close to resuming the familiar narratives of our lives, the ones we had a year ago. Narratives that included travel, unfettered access to kids, grandkids and friends and the ability to flow freely through museums, restaurants and stores.

Life as it should be. Life as it was. Life as it is looking more and more like it will be again.

Yesterday, Federer lost in the third round in three sets to Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia. It matters and it doesn’t.

“To just play him means so much to me. I am really happy that he came back and is playing again,” Basilashvili said.

“I’m happy I am back on the tour. I’m pleased I came here to Doha. So it’s really, really a positive return for me,” Federer said.

We missed you, Roger. Welcome back.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.