Roger Federer: A Tribute

I never used to like Roger Federer. As a child my idol was Andy Roddick. Roddick was an extremely talented young player, winning the US Open and becoming World Number One at the age of just 21 in 2003. Despite having already lost to Federer 4 times (while recording just one victory), Roddick promised to have a great career and looked likely to win multiple Grand Slams. And he almost did. There was just one problem: Roger Federer. Their final Head-to-Head record stands at 21-3 in favour of Federer, 4 of those Federer wins happening in Grand Slam finals. Andy Roddick and I have one thing in common: neither of us will ever get over the 2009 Wimbledon Final result. Roddick held a set point to go two sets to love up on Federer and actually won more points and more games than the Swiss in that fateful encounter, and only had his serve broken once: in the last game of the match, to lose 16-14 in the fifth set. While it was a painful day for Roddick, it proved a landmark victory for Federer, as he surpassed Pete Sampras’ record (at the time) of 14 Grand Slam titles.

I was just 9 years old that day and was sufficiently heartbroken to see my hero crushed once again by that pesky Federer. But as time went on, my opinion of Federer changed. As I matured, the sheer brilliance and genius that Federer possessed began to dawn on me, as my understanding of the game grew. By 2016, I had become a huge fan, and was devastated to see him take a 6 month break after Wimbledon to rehab his knee, missing that year’s US Open and the 2016 Olympic Games. Many wrote Federer off and said he would win no more Grand Slams, having not won one since 2012. However, Federer defied the odds, winning the Australian Open upon his return, his 18th Grand Slam title. He enjoyed a renaissance over the next 2 years, reaching World Number One once again, winning 2 more Grand Slams and passing the milestone of 100 career titles, ending his career with 103, second only to Jimmy Connors on 109.

As time went on, Federer’s form and fitness began to slowly decline, as age began to catch up with him. The Swiss maestro had always been enigmatically apt at defying father time; his 2018 Australian Open title at 36 years of age made him the oldest man to win a major since Ken Rosewall in 1972. His last appearance in a Grand Slam final was a painful one, the 2019 Wimbledon Final defeat to Novak Djokovic, in match where Federer held 2 match points on his own serve, but was beaten 13-12 in the newly introduced fifth set tiebreak.

Similarly to the final against Roddick a decade earlier, the eventual loser won more points than their opponent, but still came up short. But over those 10 years, my attitude to Federer had completely changed. I had become enthralled by his traditional style of tennis, by his timeless grace and humility, by his astonishing one-handed backhand, by his delicate touch volleys, by his cleverly disguised first serves. The young tennis fan who so desperately wanted Federer to lose every match he played because he was bored of the same man winning again and again was replaced by someone who truly loved and appreciated Federer for everything he’d done for tennis. Roger Federer is a household name and has made many a tennis fan in a career which spanned over 3 decades and multiple generations of tennis players.

Only two men have ever been able to replicate Federer’s brilliance: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It is only by sheer co-incidence that the three greatest players of all time happened to play at the same time, and we have been privileged to witness each and every one of their epic battles. What makes Federer stand out, is that he had to contend with both Djokovic and Nadal in their prime, while the same cannot be said of the other two. Great players such as David Nalbandian, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and many others had the displeasure of having to face Federer in his most dominant years and have comparatively little to show for it.

It is hard to write a piece that does justice to the astonishing career of Roger Federer, so I’ll leave you with some of the best statistics:

  • 1,251 Career Wins
  • 310 weeks at World Number One
  • 237 consecutive weeks at World Number One
  • 103 career titles
  • 28 Masters 1000 titles
  • 20 Grand Slam titles
  • 6 Year-End championship titles
  • Zero mid-match retirements

Roger, thanks for the memories.