On 8th August, 1981, a young boy was born to a middle-class family in Basel. Fast forward 37 years and that very boy is arguably the greatest to have ever graced the game of tennis.
The Swiss maestro had a decent start to his tennis career as he won the Wimbledon juniors’ singles and doubles titles in 1998, in addition to reaching the US Open juniors final. However, he shot to prominence with his epic 5-set win over Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. To many people, it was a shock but to the eagle-eyed tennis enthusiasts, this represented a changing of the guard.
In a couple of years’ time, Roger Federer returned to SW19 and captured his first Grand Slam, defeating the Australian, Mark Phillippoussis in the final. He never looked back after his first victory in London and has 8 Wimbledon crowns in his kitty. To supplement this, he has won the Australian Open 6 times, the US Open 5 times and the French Open once.
Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Federer is showing no signs of letting up and won his 6th Australian Open at the start of the year. Tennis fans would hope that Federer never hangs up his racquet.
On the occasion of his 37th birthday, I would like to take a trip down memory lane and relive 5 of his greatest Grand Slam triumphs.
5. 2004 US Open
By the time Federer arrived at Flushing Meadows, he had already laid his hands on the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He came into the tournament as the red-hot favourite and he didn’t disappoint.
He combined his precise serve, his razor-sharp backhand and his powerful forehand to sweep aside each and every obstacle in his path. Before 2004, Federer had never crossed the ‘Round of 16’ barrier in New York. However, he did so comfortably this time round, beating Costa, Baghdatis and Santoro in the first three rounds before getting a walkover in the fourth.
He faced his toughest test in the quarter-final against the old war-horse, Andre Agassi. With the match deadlocked at 2 sets apiece, Federer brought his A-game to the fore in the final set, winning 6-3. He dispatched Tim Henman with ease in the semi-final, winning in straight sets.
History beckoned for Federer. If he won the final, he would become the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three Grand Slams in a calendar year. He made the record his own and in some style. Federer waltzed past Lleyton Hewitt in the final, beating him 6-0, 7-6, 6-0 and thus bringing Hewitt’s 16-match unbeaten run to a grinding halt.
With this victory, Federer had signalled to each of his rivals that he intended to dominate the tennis landscape for years to come. The 2004 US Open makes the list for the sheer authority displayed by Roger in clinching the title.
4. Wimbledon 2017
Roger came into the 2017 edition of the Wimbledon Championships on the back of an awe-inspiring run to the title in Melbourne. He finally seemed to have regained his mojo and with Nadal losing to Gilles Muller, Federer seemed destined to take home his 8th Wimbledon title.
However, the manner in which Federer won the crown, was astounding. Top players like Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov lay in his wake as he reached the final without dropping a set.
In the final against Marin Cilic, he was irresistible, sending down 8 aces and cracking 20 winners while making just 12 unforced errors. In the process, Federer shattered another record. He became the first man since Bjorn Borg to win at SW19 without dropping a single set. In addition to this, he also became the only man to hold 8 Wimbledon crowns.
The way Federer marched to the title, displaying the dominance of yesteryear, is what gets the 2017 Wimbledon victory the No.4 spot on our list.
3. Wimbledon 2007
Federer was in his pomp in 2007. At the start of the year, he had breezed past everyone to win the Australian Open, without dropping a set. Though he lost out to his nemesis, Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, Federer arrived as the overwhelming favourite in London.
It was work as usual for Federer in the 1st week and he comfortably reached the quarter finals, where he faced Juan Carlos Fererro. A minor blip aside, Federer swept aside his challenge, coming through in 4 sets. He then proceeded to get the better of Richard Gasquet in the semis before a date with destiny awaited him. Federer’s partner for the date was none other than his arch nemesis, Rafa.
The 2007 Wimbledon final will go down as one of the best Grand Slam finals ever. It was a see-saw battle between two of tennis’ finest and went down to the wire. After a gripping 4th set, the momentum was with Nadal. He started the 5th set well before Federer found his moment of inspiration.
Roger clawed his way back into the match and started smacking winners off both wings. After a marathon, he finally finished off the match and equalled Borg’s record of winning 5 straight Wimbledon titles.
In terms of the finals Federer has played, this has to go down as one of the toughest. Despite looking like he would lose his 1st Wimbledon final, he never threw in the towel and emerged victorious at the end of it all.
This Grand Slam finds a place in the list for the grit and determination shown by Roger to not give his arch rival an inch in their battle for being tennis’ greatest.
2. Australian Open 2017
2015 and 2016 weren’t the best years in Roger’s career. After remaining fit for the majority of his career, the injury curse struck and he was side-lined for a significant part of the 2016 season. The intermittent injuries did not allow Federer to scale the heights he was capable of.
With an extensive rehabilitation period behind him, Federer started off the 2017 season by playing the Hopman Cup. He looked to be getting back to his best, but an untimely loss to Alexander Zverev threw a spanner in the works.
Roger’s first big test at the Australian Open came in the Round of 16 when he was paired against Kei Nishikori. After an absorbing battle, Roger came through in 5 sets. His next five-set encounter was against countryman, Stan Wawrinka.
Federer gained a two-set advantage but let it slip very quickly. Fortunately for him, he regained his touch to win the final set 6-3. He scraped through to the final. The ‘dream final’ that everyone had hoped for, had finally come to fruition. The two veterans and arch rivals, Roger and Rafa were pitted against each other for the 35th time in their illustrious careers.
The match was one for the ages, with both players pulling off unbelievable shots. Just a couple of days after having survived marathon five-set semi-finals, the warriors were at it again. The match eventually swayed towards Federer and he was able to win his 5th Australian Open title and 18th Grand Slam overall.
Roger had overcome a lot to participate at the Rod Laver Arena, let alone win it. The ability to win with all the odds stacked against him, is what makes Roger’s 2017 Australian Open triumph his second greatest.
1. 2009 Roland Garros
The only title that had eluded Roger Federer till 2009 was the French Open. Having fallen at the final hurdle on three occasions before, people started wondering if Roger was ever going to get his hands on the coveted Roland Garros trophy.
During that period, Rafael Nadal was practically unbeatable on clay. A number of people, including Federer, had tried to usurp him as the King of Clay, but to no avail. However, in the 4th round of Roland Garros in 2009, Robin Soderling stunned the world and beat Rafa for the first time on clay. With Rafa out of the frame, Roger was suddenly the favourite in Paris, something which had never happened before.
Roger started off the tournament scratchily and endured a couple of 4-set battles before locking horns with Tommy Haas in the pre-quarter-finals. He took 5 sets before getting past him. He again went the distance in the semi-final against Juan Martin Del Potro.
With his place in the final booked, history lay in wait for the magician from Basel. If he beat Nadal’s conqueror, Soderling in the final, Federer would complete the ‘Career Grand Slam’. He did so with efficiency, winning in straight sets.
Many had believed that Federer could not be the greatest ever if he failed to win at Roland Garros. However, with the victory in 2009, he put to bed all those discussions.
While each of the 20 Grand Slam triumphs would have left a sweet taste, none would have tasted sweeter than the win in Paris in 2009.