New york - The surprising US Open final between Japan's Kei Nishikori and Croatian Marin Cilic may mark the end of an era in tennis, but the retired Swede Mats Wilander remains convinced that Roger Federer, 33, still has several years left to his career.
"I see him playing one of the longest ever. I do, I really do," former world number one Wilander told dpa in New York. "It's amazing. His drive to compete is huge. Incredible."
Wilander, who just turned 50, is one of the most successful tennis players in history, with seven Grand Slam trophies and an amazing season in 1988 in which he won the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open. He currenly works as a pundit for the Eurosport TV channel.
For him, the later years in the career of the Swiss legend, who has won a record 17 Grand Slam tournaments, are showing a new side to Federer.
"He's been winning so easily that we forget he's a fighter," Wilander said. "The fighter in Roger Federer is just more recognizable now, when he's not beating everybody easily and he's not winning Grand Slams."
This, he noted, is a major contribution to the development of younger players.
"Is it worth it to give it all, or is it not worth it to give it all? The more you have going on on the sidelines, like a family and kids or whatever, the harder it is to fight on the court. Not physically, physically it's easy," Wilander explained.
"You have to want to win. You have to show heart. And that's what he is showing - not more than before, it's just that we see it more."
Younger players need to see whether they have that kind of spirit in them at all.
"Because (Federer) is one of the greatest players of all time, if not the greatest, he can't be like that without heart. That's always the biggest difference between the best players in the world," Wilander said. "The heart of a champion is just not the same."
"He of course has that, and most kids don't. And there will be one that has," he said.
That one may be the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, 23, according to Wilander.
"I think Grigor has heart, as in he wants to improve, he's going to put the work in, he wants to be the best player in the world. He wants to win Grand Slam titles. His goals are very clear," Wilander said.
That spirit puts players like Federer and Spain's former world number one Rafael Nadal, who has won 14 Grand Slam tournaments, in a league of their own.
"People have years when they're not fighters, definitely matches when you're not a fighter, and certainly points when you don't fight. But with him and (Rafael) Nadal, they fight for every single point, which is unbelievable."
And youngsters should learn from that.
"To me, the best thing in the world, when you see older players like Roger, I don't care if he wins or not, it doesn't matter. You just want to see him out there fighting, because once he goes out there fighting you're like, 'Look, see? He won 17 Grand Slam titles, and look at him'," Wilander said. "It's important for the sport."
That fighting is apparently also important for Federer himself.
"I think he wants to learn something more about tennis. And if he wins matches, then he wins matches, great. But I think he wants to learn how to be better at a game that he's not (currently) the best at. He could be better at the volley game. And he is better at the volley game," Wilander said.
"He wants to shorten points up, he wants to play for another 5-6 years, another 4-5 years at least."
Nadal, 28, has taken a different path.
"You don't know how long he's gonna be able to keep doing what he's doing, play for a year and a half, take a break, play for a year, take a break. Maybe another 4-5 years?" Wilander guessed.
If that is the case, the two legends of contemporary tennis will probably "retire very close together," ideally according to Wilander with the same number of Grand Slams.
"That would be cool," Wilander said. "And fair."