Twenty Slams, 103 ATP titles, six Finals, 310 weeks at number one (237 of these in a row), and 28 Masters 1000s. Born where you never thought someone like him would never come out, Roger Federer represents the link between classic and modern tennis. His obsessive love of the game has guided him through each retrofit. His talent took care of everything else: “He has so much of that talent in his body,” Rod Laver said years ago, “that it’s almost hard to believe. I would say that it is almost unfair that the same person can do everything like him. And move as if he only touched the ground, which is the characteristic of phenomena ”.
Numbers, considerations and nicknames (the Master, the Genius) contained in 23 years of career and in a specific question: “Is he the greatest of all time?”. The desire of many to say “yes” collides with the impossibility to answer objectively.Today Roger Federer turns 40 and we wanted to tell his story in five acts.
The Beginnings: Broken Padel Rackets And Colored Hair (1998-2002)
July 2, 2001. Round of 16 at Wimbledon. Pete Sampras is on center court. It is his field, the one that has already seen him triumph seven times. He has the service available and must face a match point in the fifth set. The score is 6-5. In front of him is a 19-year-old Swiss, with a ponytail, a collar around his neck and a bit of a carefree air, who has been marveling at the most famous tournament in the world for three and a half hours. His name is Roger Federer. He is not a meteor. His name has been around for quite some time. At least since 1998: “I saw the young Federer for the first time – recalled youth Gianni Clerici – during the Wimbledon tournament in 1998 (ed. Then won by the Swiss). I saw a boy beat, step forward and face a rebound with arm speed, more than unusual, incredible ”. The debut of a Slam tournament at Roland Garros 1999 and the first lost final (Marseille and Basel in 2000) anticipate the first victory of his career in Milan. On February 5, 2001 Julien Boutter was defeated 6-4 6-7 6-4. The talent he unleashes seems to have no limit, yet many are skeptical of his potential. The young Federer is indeed fickle, he breaks the rackets, complains often and goes out onto the field with streaked hair. The classic example of genius and recklessness. And you know, with rare exceptions (John McEnroe), a player with this nature leaves his mark on hearts but not on the various golden books.
This is the label that the first Federer carries with him. A reputation that begins to wane when Sampras serves the first winger to cancel match point. Federer’s forehand response is early, long and winning: 7-6 5-7 6-4 6-7 7-5. To see him with the Championship trophy in hand it still takes two years and other sensational defeats (one especially, that of the 2002 Wimbledon first round against Mario Ancic), but the victory against Pete Sampras is the turning point of his career. The technical shock that was needed. The emotional, for Federer, comes the following year and coincides with a tragedy. The death of his trainer Peter Carter, the one who had seen us long before the others and who had endured all of his youth hysteria.
The Years of Domination (2003-2007)
Volleys, semi-volleys, stop volley, passes and drop-shots. Right, back or counterweight. Full arm or wrist only. It is a complete repertoire like Roger Federer’s that has never been seen on a tennis court. All past champions, in fact, had a weak point that the opponent could hold onto. But it seems he doesn’t have any. As powerful in his blows as he is graceful in his movements, Federer, between 2003 and 2007, is a river full of feats that finds the perfect dimension of him when he steps on the grass at Wimbledon.
Here the former rebellious child becomes dominator on July 6, 2003, after a wrong response from Australian Mark Philippoussis, 7-6 6-2 7-6. From then on it will be a succession of triumphs for five seasons: the number one in the ranking won in February 2004, four Atp Finals (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007), plus four Wimbledons (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), four Us Open (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) and three Australian Open (2004, 2006, 2007). A total supremacy that breeds boredom and more. Federer takes on a mystical air. For David Foster Wallace, attending one of his matches is equivalent to living a “religious experience”: “The metaphysical explanation – he writes in the book dedicated to the Swiss – is that Roger Federer is one of those rare supernatural athletes who seem to be exempt, At least in part, by certain physical laws. He is never out of breath or off balance. The ball going towards him stays in the air, for him, a fraction of a second longer than it should. His movements are more flexible than athletic. Ali, Jordan, Maradona and Gretzky, seems at the same time more and less concrete than their opponents.
Mind you in the all-white suit that Wimbledon still enjoys imposing with impunity, it looks like what (in my opinion) it could very well be: a creature with a body made of both flesh and, in a sense, light. ” Every match is an opportunity to create never-before-seen shots, the “Federer moments”: “Almost all tennis lovers who follow the men’s circuit on television – continues Foster Wallace – have had, in recent years, what could be defined “Federer. moments ». The Moments are all the more intense if a minimum of direct experience of the game allows you to understand the impossibility of what you have just seen him do ”.
Everyone asks for the Grand Slam that has been missing since 1969. Everyone considers it an inevitable fact. But this never comes. Federer is always missing a piece, Roland Garros. Here he finds his nemesis and, at the same time, his fortune. Because there is no greatness winning alone, only cold numbers. Rafael Nadal stops him on clay in 2005, 2006 and 2007. The rivalry that emerges is radical, exciting and iconic. A comparison of styles that creates imagination and charm in the public and that, often, sees the Spanish win. Nadal is the only opponent Federer feels vulnerable against. More for Freudian reasons than technical ones. He is the only one who can break his rule.
The Unbeatable Loss (2008-2012)
Federer’s forehand is stopped at the net. Nadal won again, this time 9-7 in the fifth. The theater, however, is not Roland Garros, but Wimbledon. The impregnable fort. The place where Federer has won 41 consecutive matches. Three interruptions due to rain, the conclusion in darkness, Federer’s comeback from two sets to zero, the tie-break of the fourth set with two match points annulled by Nadal. A series of spectacular shots that make the 2008 final a milestone in tennis history. For many, the best game of all time.
However, Federer’s defeat is also something else. It is a new milestone. The beginning of a new story. The end of a dictatorship and the birth of a tennis oligarchy. The undefeated aura has definitely collapsed and Federer has to deal with defeat even on his own fields. He completes the Career Grand Slam by finally winning Roland Garros (2009), gets the absolute Slam record at Wimbledon (also in 2009) and also returns to world number one, but no longer dominates. With him now is not only Nadal but also two other young people with great talents: Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
They also learn to win and win. In 2011 Federer did not win Major titles. It’s the first time since 2003. In a low voice we started to quit. Sentences and sentences suddenly overturned on July 8, 2012, when Scotsman Murray sends his passerby running down the hall. It is the seventh Wimbledon for the Swiss. The most difficult because he played for the first time against a “hostile” audience, eager to see a British winner disappeared since 1936. No, it is not the end yet. There is time for that.
Accidents And Wanting To Improve Again (2013-2016)
A title in Halle, a semi-final at the Australian Open, a fourth at Roland Garros, an eighth at the US Open and, above all, the second round at Wimbledon. It’s 2013 from the Roger Federer. Worst season in a decade. Also affected by a series of back injuries, many consider the Swiss to be on the avenue of sunset. On the other hand he is 32 years old. At his age, many gave up. But Federer is not a tennis player like the others. He goes up. He wants to improve even more to give himself one last chance. He exchanges the racket and signs Stefan Edberg. His game soon becomes more urgent and offensive. The drops to the network a constant.
The titles return (in 2014 Dubai, Halle, Cincinnati, Shanghai and Basel, in 2015 Brisbane, Dubai, Istanbul, Halle, Cincinnati and Basel) and second place in the world, but there is no success in the Grand Slams. And this time, it is not Nadal but Novak Djokovic who blocks the way. In 2014 at Wimbledon Federer lost in the fifth set against the Serbian. The following year, however, four are enough for both the Championship and New York. The disappointment is great. However, the more he loses in the final, the more his (already global) popularity increases even more. The relief of seeing him so competitive, in addition to fighting against old age, creates in people the need to see him raise another Elder. Every time it seems like Federer plays at home, especially when he’s in trouble. Each game becomes a Davis Cup match. Every public, regardless of its nationality, becomes Swiss.
In 2016, things change again. In the corner of him there is no longer Edberg but Ivan Ljubicic. However, the year is not easy. Only two semifinals reach the Australian Open and Wimbledon and many physical problems. He operates on his knee and his back is palpated. At 35, Federer decides to stop playing d
uring six months. For the first time since 2000, he doesn’t even win a trophy. We go back to talking about the credits and the last round for the final greetings. The fourth chapter of his career ends as it began.
The Rebirth And The Search For The Perfect Ending (2017 To Present)
Fifth set, 8-7 40-15. Federer has two match points at his disposal. He is just one point away from his ninth Wimbledon title and possibly the perfect end of his career. Everything seems already written in that edition of Wimbledon 2019. The delirious crowd, the congratulations from Novak Djokovic and the Championship official ready to engrave his name on the trophy. But all this does not come. One after another, the dots fade away. First a right hand error and then a passerby from Nole. When it comes to the 12-12 tie-break, everyone knows that the happy ending will not come this time.
That happy ending that instead had come unexpectedly two years earlier, in 2017. Detained for six months due to injury, Federer arrives at the Australian Open with a thousand uncertainties and n. 17. No one is prepared for what is about to happen. The ambiguous feelings of the first few rounds soon give way to disbelief. Berdych, Nishikori, M. Zverev and Wawrinka are lined up. By magic, eight years after the last time, Federer is back in the Melbourne final. Again against Nadal. The final is one of the two peaks of their rivalry. Five sets where the show is mixed with nostalgia.
Federer’s victory doesn’t just represent the 18th Grand Slam. He for the first time overtakes Nadal in the fifth, recovering a break from behind. He beats him for the first time thanks to his backhand. It is a true rebirth at 35 and a half years. Thirteen years after their first meeting (Miami 2004), the Swiss find a way to solve Nadal’s puzzle. The psychological click translates into five consecutive victories. But 2017 is not just the time for excitement. There is also room for history. Federer rewrites it at Wimbledon six months later. The ace with which he concludes the final against Marin Cilic is precise, inevitable and peremptory. Like the tournament he wins without losing a single set. It is the eighth Wimbledon. The registry of records.
The wake of so much enthusiasm brings three other results: the 20th Major in Australia, the return to world number one and the title of Atp n. 100. Now everything is there, only the perfect ending is missing. The last tail stroke. The obsession of all great champions who feel that the moment to say “enough” is coming. Novak Djokovic, Covid and a new injury then complicated things. But the search for the perfect ending continues and it sure won’t be a 6-0 on Center Court against Hubert Hurkacz.