I was not supposed to write anything about the Australian Open finalbetween Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. I was due to take a flight the next day, after seven weeks on the road, writing about sports. So a part of me was looking forward to leaning back and catching up on a few movies on the thirteen hour trip.

But Roger Federer does not let you rest. With his actions, he draws us back and forces us to put words to the sport. As I watched my movie, a poem in it stirred back memories of the context and spectacle of the previous night. The odds Federer faced, the shots he played, the grace when he won.

So I pulled out my laptop and grimaced at the lack of wifi on the plane. I would have to do this the old fashioned way. So after a brief fisticuffs with the pause and play buttons on the screen, I wrote that poem down, and started writing around it.

Do not go gentle into that good night

The landscape of tennis had changed since Roger Federer first won a Grand Slam in 2003. For half a decade, there were only two leading lights: Federer himself in his prime, when he spent 237 weeks as the world No. 1; and then a teenage challenger from Spain named Rafael Nadal. The pair enthralled the tennis world for about five years, with bouts of perfection pitted against power.

Together, they won 24 of the 28 slams between 2004 and 2010. In time, a third star arose, as Novak Djokovic upstaged them both for a while when he reached his zenith. And then came a fourth, as Andy Murray grew tired of – and stronger from –being perpetual runner up.

Then, there were the up and comers. Milos Raonic. Kei Nishikori. Grigor Dimitrov (oh and how he is coming up). Over the last two years, the field was possibly more talented than it had been since Federer lost his first Grand Slam to Nadal in 2006.

There would be no easy wins awaiting Federer in 2017.

And yet…

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

He is 35 years old. After a decade of apparent physical invulnerability – in a sport where technical superiority is nothing without athletic priority – he missed a Grand Slam through injury last year. Not just that, he missed six months. The back trouble in 2013 was only a blip, a minor inflection in an injury flatline that bookended a run of 65 successive majors. This was more serious. Perhaps only age could have laid bare his humanity as it did, while doing something as innocuous as drawing a bath.

And yet…

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Yet a comeback was inevitable. For Federer was not playing tennis because he needed to, but because he wanted to. “What’s wrong with you people?” he asked in an interview to The Guardian last year. “Don’t you understand that playing tennis is great fun? I don’t need to win three slams a year to be content.”

He would be back, that we knew. But could he win again, a grand slam, eluding him since 2012? Could he defy the evening his career was most certainly in? Could he conjure magic in the dark?

In Melbourne, Federer dismissed these questions as he dismissed some of the Nadal serves that met his backhand.

And yet…

Though wise men at their end know dark is right

Federer said after the final that reaching the quarters would have been a result he would have smiled at. “Fourth round would be nice. Quarters, great.” Those were very pragmatic expectations considering it was only his second tournament in six months. In the first, the Hopman Cup, he had been defeated in three sets by the younger Zverev, 19-year-old Alexander.

Even when he made the final, history was against him. His head to head against Nadal stood at nine losses to two wins in Grand Slams. Overall, it was 23-11. That can play on the mind.

And yet…

Because their words forked no lightning they

He knew he was not done. “I did believe that I had the game, the mental and physical capabilities to do it again. When I was fit, I was actually always really really close”, he said in an interview after the final.

He knew he still had it. Despite 17 majors, despite Olympic gold, despite all that prize money, he was not ready to ease up on the intensity.

He knew he had a Grand Slam left in him. He believed. Even when 1-3 down in the fifth set.

“I really did deep down believe in it, that I could turn it around.”

And yet…

Do not go gentle into that good night

It promised to be a long night. He had to put his knee to the ultimate test, the likes of which the Hopman Cup could not have given him. Grand Slams are tennis’ Test cricket. They push a (male) player to five sets, they question his fitness, his fortitude, not just his bravura.

Federer endured two five setters just to get to the final. And there he was playing Nadal. The guy who, like MS Dhoni, likes to take the game deep. The guy with probably the best defensive game on tour. The guy who would keep getting the ball in. It would have been a test of his rebuilt fitness as well as his recollected technique.

On top of everything, Federer was playing with an adductor injury, for which he required treatment. He took medical time outs in the semis and the final after the fourth sets, something he rarely does, something he was almost apologetic about when he beat Wawrinka.

And yet…

Rage, rage against the dying light

Rage he did, but it was rage without malice. Harmoniously violent backhands, forehands with airtime that belonged in the NBA, and aces that Nadal’s biceps could only envy as they whizzed past. But as the sunlight died, and Nadal took the game into a fifth set, the light seemed to die on Federer’s miraculous run against an unforgiving draw.

Would he ever get a tournament where the top two seeds went out early? Would he ever get a tournament where he was so physically fresh? Would he ever get a final against Nadal having had one recovery day more than his opponent? Would he ever get a chance to bury the ghosts of his losses to his great rival, dubbed “The greatest player of Federer”?

Then came the long sought break. After ridiculous defence where Nadal saved five break points in a row, Federer finally prised the break back from the Spaniard’s grip. Then came four more games in a row. Inexplicably, Nadal seemed to fade away in service games, only to rise while facing break points (he only conceded two out of eleven in that set). But it proved enough of an opening for Federer.

Nadal’s final challenge proved just inadequate in more ways than one. And after the jumps, after the fist pumps, after the Swiss raised his hands to the sky, Federer went down on one knee, just for a moment, as if receiving a knighthood.

Maybe it was a subconscious acknowledgement of the enormity of his achievement. For his fans, the moment was his anointment – having overcome his greatest labour yet – as the greatest ever.

And so…

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Though wise men at their end know dark is right

Because their words forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying light

— Dylan Thomas

This article first appeared on Scroll.in