Roger Federer's much-awaited comeback was put on pause a couple of weeks ago, as the Swiss lost to Nikoloz Basilashvili in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Qatar Open. Federer subsequently withdrew from the Dubai event, citing the need to go back to the drawing board given that he was not ready to compete at a high level yet.
Perhaps the break will serve Roger Federer well, not only because his body would get much-required rest but also because he would get a better perspective on his goals for the season.
Federer has been surpassed by Novak Djokovic in the number of weeks as World No. 1, which was one of his most cherished records. And the Swiss must now also be worried about his Grand Slam record getting overtaken by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who stand at 20 and 18 Grand Slams respectively.
Against that background, Roger Federer would be keen to make a charge for the 2021 Wimbledon title and hold off the other two a while longer. But in any case, if Rafael Nadal wins his 21st Major at the French Open, it would spell the end of Federer's reign at the top.
That said, Roger Federer has never gone down quietly and he never will. Federer could still salvage his status in 2021 if he ends up breaking the record for most Slams won, among others.
On that note, here's a look at four historic feats Federer can achieve in 2021 that would help him stand his ground in the GOAT debate:
1. Roger Federer can break the record for most Grand Slam match wins in the Open Era
Roger Federer was forced to withdraw from the Australian Open as he hadn't fully recovered from his knee surgery and also because he wasn't prepared to adhere to the strict COVID-19 quarantine measures in Melbourne. In the Swiss maestro's absence, 23-time Major winner Serena Williams was able to equal his record of 362 match wins on the Grand Slam stage.
The American failed to break Federer's record though, as she was defeated by Naomi Osaka in their semifinal match. Williams will next have a chance to leave Federer behind at Roland Garros.
If Serena Williams doesn't overtake Roger Federer by the time Wimbledon and US Open roll around, the tables might turn in Federer's favor as he would be looking to make a deep run at both events.
Having said that, Serena Williams is more than capable of producing good results at the final two Majors of the season herself. The American will also be motivated by the prospect of surpassing Margaret Court's record tally of 24 Grand Slams, so Federer would need to pull his socks up if he intends to be the sole owner of this record.
2. Roger Federer can break the record for most tour match wins by a male player
Roger Federer has won 103 tour titles from 2003-2020, establishing the gold standard when it comes to winning matches. The Swiss champion is possibly the most versatile player of all time, which is something that has helped him get 1,243 match wins on the pro tour under his belt.
Roger Federer is currently second on the list of male players who have the most official wins, with the record being held by USA's Jimmy Connors at 1,274. Federer is actually on Connors' tail in another list too - that for most ATP titles (the American holds the Open era record at 109 titles).
After years of persistence, Federer is finally within spitting distance of Connors' both records.
Federer could leave Connors' record tally of most wins on the pro tour in the dust if he wins 31 ATP-level matches this season. Although that might sound like a lot for Federer, who turns 40 this year, the Swiss will likely do his best to play as much as he can in the second half of the year.
Perhaps winning a couple of titles in 2021 would help Federer in his march to the record for most match wins on the pro tour.
3. Roger Federer can become the oldest player, male or female, to play a Grand Slam final
Roger Federer will try to turn back the clock in 2021, even if his chances to put together another victorious Slam run have begun to look slim. As they say, Father Time is invincible.
The trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have transcended what it means to be truly versatile, winning big titles well into their 30s. But so far none of them has played long enough to break the record for the oldest player to have played a Major final.
That record currently has belonged to the great Ken Rosewall for the last 47 years. Rosewall was 39 years and 310 days old when he reached the last Major final of his career at the 1974 US Open, losing to home favorite Jimmy Connors.
Roger Federer could have a crack at this record in 2021, as he will turn 40 in early August. That means if Federer can push his way to the championship match at Wimbledon, he would become the oldest player in the Open era to play a Slam final - at 39 years and 337 days.
Federer is expected to move heaven and earth to take home his 9th Wimbledon trophy this year. But even if the Swiss maestro fails to navigate his way to the championship match at the All-England Club, he would again have a shot at the aforementioned feat at the US Open, where he could become the first 40-year-old in the game's history to play a Major final.
4. Roger Federer can become the sole owner of the Slam titles record again
Roger Federer was considered the greatest male tennis player for a long time, having held the record for most Grand Slams before his rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic came of age. Djokovic and Nadal then shared 19 Major titles between them from 2011-2016, while Federer took home only two (2010 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon) in the same period.
Just when it looked like the Fed Express was dead in the waters, he staged a career renaissance at the age of 37 as he won three more Major titles to extend his record tally to 20 Slams.
Federer has not been able to sustain the same level since, and he has struggled to produce top-notch performances outside of the All-England Club. In the meantime, Nadal has tied Federer's record tally, aided by his dominion over Roland Garros, and Djokovic has also got within shouting distance of the Swiss' most significant record.
But Roger Federer is still one of the most clutch players of all time. The Swiss maestro wants to be 100% ready for Wimbledon 2021 no matter what; his willingness to play in the preceding clay season to get some match practice suggests he's not going to go away quietly.
Maybe being considered the GOAT for so many years has turned out to be a bad thing for Roger Federer, who now finds himself at a severe disadvantage in the debate. But the Swiss is known as someone who can take his punches and come back swinging, so he could well make the final chapter of the GOAT race interesting.