In the category of possible last hurrahs, the 128th edition of the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club's annual party on the grass may be hosting something exceptional this year.
Will this be the last time they'll be serving strawberries and cream with Roger Federer and Serena Williams?
Wimbledon begins Monday. The hustle and bustle of this two-week premier event in tennis can distract from history in the making. If this is it for Federer and Williams, we should pay closer attention.
To be clear, there have been no announcements. Both players hate to even field questions about retirement. That is both understandable and a necessity of survival on the pro tennis tour. If you allow yourself to start thinking about being done, you probably are.
Andy Roddick knew. It was just time. He announced his retirement on his 30th birthday.
Pete Sampras knew, but he struggled mightily with it. He beat Andre Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final, a surprise title for many, maybe even Sampras. He hadn't won a Grand Slam tournament in two years, and the '02 U.S. Open confused the issue for him.
Did he still have enough for one more? Was he able and willing to go on, to run up and down hills, day and night, like rival Agassi? Could he endure the pain Agassi endured to keep going? Did he want to?
The soul-searching was lengthy, the phone conversations pointed, sometimes tortured. Why not go one more year, have a victory tour, we suggested. A bunch of quarterfinals will get you another million dollars, and fans along the way will get to say goodbye.
His response was always the same. He had to think he had a chance to win or he wouldn't even try.
That was the decider. Pete Sampras, with 14 major titles putting him in the conversation as the greatest player of all time, never played another match. He went out on top, the champion of the hardest tennis tournament in the world to win, the U.S. Open.
Sampras was 31. He had a wife and kids and plenty of wear and tear. And he knew it.
Federer will be 33 on Aug. 8, Williams 33 on Sept. 26. Tennis years are like dog years. Age 33 is pre-rest home.
Federer has won the Wimbledon title seven times and has a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles. Williams has won at Wimbledon five times and also has 17 major singles titles, although she has a ways to go to catch Margaret Court's 24.
Federer and Williams have been major attractions on these hallowed grounds for more than a decade.
Williams first played here in 1998 and made it to the third round. Then she was a phenom. Now she is a force.
Federer made his Wimbledon debut in 1999 and lost in the first round. From 2003 to 2007, he did not lose a match here and won again in '09 after a misstep in '08. Twelve times, one or the other has held the trophy high and bowed to the Queen's box. Three times — '03, '09 and '12 — they both did it.
Federer is seeded fourth behind Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. Williams is seeded No. 1.
Federer has earned more than $80 million on the pro tour. But his game, so fluid and surgical that it is hard to see any decline, has not presented him with the frequent trophy-gathering to which he was accustomed, although he did win a Wimbledon warm-up event last week. If he is a step slower, how would we mortals know? We don't watch tennis with a stopwatch.
The only measures are wins and losses, and his last major win was that 2012 Wimbledon; before that, the 2010 Australian.
Federer has a family that recently took a big jump in size with the birth of twin boys, to go along with his twin girls. He and wife Mirka named the boys Leo and Lenny — great alliterative marketability for a future Bryan twins-like doubles team?
Recently, he stepped down as president of the ATP Players Council, where he, among otherthings, led the way to higher purses for early-round losers.
For Federer, then, there are signs, hints. A family of four. Cutting political ties to his sport. Just two major titles in nearly five years.
For Williams, the signs are harder to read. She has played longer, been both spectacular and inconsistent, and has been injured more than Federer. Her early departure from the French didn't stop Wimbledon from seeding her No. 1, or just about any expert from picking her to win.
Her longevity may be extended by the lack of greatness competing for the same titles. Seeded behind her here are No. 2 Li Na, No. 3 Simone Halep and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska. All nice players, but not the female likes of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.
Still, Williams, whose game is split into equal parts power and grace, has won $55 million on the tour, has myriad interests and a big body that has to be tougher to keep in shape with each ensuing year.
We can only hope that the Federer-Serena run is not over, that we can have Breakfast at Wimbledon for several more years with them adding cream to our coffee.
We can even secretly root that each wins this year, so we get to see them at their best at least once more.
But we should be advised to take longer looks, to pay better attention, to savor this upcoming fortnight.
It could be the last Wimbledon where the savoring will be the same.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun