Wednesday 24 January 2018

Federer can set record straight

Simon Cambers

Of all the many, incredible things he has achieved in his career, should Roger Federer break Andy Murray's heart once more by winning the title here today, it could well be the biggest accomplishment of them all. Just two months short of his 31st birthday, the Swiss stands on the verge of a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title and victory today would also give him back the world number one ranking for the first time in more than two years.

Ask Federer at the beginning of each year what he would most like to do and the answer has been the same for a decade: win Wimbledon and end the year number one. Should he win today, one of those will be in the bag and the other will be a real possibility.

To put things in perspective, only two men -- Rod Laver in 1969 and Arthur Ashe in 1975 -- have won Wimbledon aged 30 and above. Age might only be a number but, in tennis, Federer is approaching veteran age. Were it any other player, we would be talking about a man at last-chance saloon, today's final giving him the opportunity for one last hurrah. Instead, for Federer, we are talking about the sport's greatest ever player regaining his status as top dog. Should it happen, he will be only the second oldest man to be ranked number one, after Andre Agassi, who last topped the rankings at the age of 33 in 2003.

The rise of Novak Djokovic and the continued brilliance of Rafael Nadal, with the occasional intervention by Murray, has somewhat sidelined Federer, at least in the eyes of the public. His two quarter-final exits here in 2010 and 2011 only enhanced that view but a closer look at his record tells a different story. In the 10 Grand Slam events since he beat Murray at the Australian Open in 2010 for the most recent of his 16 Grand Slam titles, including this one, Federer has made it to the semi-finals in seven of them, including two finals. Nadal and Djokovic may have mopped up the titles but he has never really gone away.

"He was always there," Djokovic said after losing to Federer in the semis. "In the last couple of years he didn't win a Major but he was in a couple of finals and semi-finals. He's always playing close matches. Of course he was so dominant (before), and then you had Nadal who made a great rivalry with him. Then myself, Murray, and a couple other players who were young and who started believing they can win against him. That's what I think makes this era right now in men's tennis very interesting."

You get the feeling that Federer would love nothing more than to put these young bucks in their place by extending his record tally of Grand Slams. Equalling Sampras with seven Wimbledons will put his name in the history books and by becoming number one he would equal the American's all-time record of 286 weeks at the top. With none of the big names in action this week, he will then go clear on his own. Sampras says he is used to Federer breaking his records and the fact that the American was his idol can only add to everything.

"Everybody knows what a hero he is to me and how much I admire what he's been able to achieve in tennis," Federer said. "I don't think he ever lost a Grand Slam final here at Wimbledon, he won seven out of seven, which is just incredible, particularly in the times he played against all these big servers, when things were a bit more unpredictable. So I'm very proud to have a shot of equalling Pete, but right now the focus is obviously resting and preparing for the next match."

Both Djokovic and Nadal, the latter resting on holiday in Sardinia, say that if Federer does win today, he will deserve the number one ranking. Both men know that the vagaries of the ranking system mean that top spot could well change hands a couple of times over the coming months and finishing the year as number one carries the most kudos.

Federer says he intends to play on for as long as he can. It is hard to imagine him doing do if he is no longer a contender for Grand Slam titles, but we have to take him at his word. When Sampras won his seventh Wimbledon, in 2000, he was beginning to show signs of wear and tear; though Federer has been more vulnerable over five sets in the past couple of years, John McEnroe believes he is technically a better player now than he was when he was winning three Grand Slam titles each year in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Sampras went out on a high when he won the US Open in 2002 and, though Federer shows few signs of slowing down, there are similarities between where the American was and where the Swiss is now.

"I admired how he stuck around, how he tried to win maybe one more, maybe two more," Federer said. "Obviously it was a big surprise and a shock that I was able to break his five Wimbledons in a row here. It was an inspiration for sure to see somebody while I was coming up dominating the game and breaking the all-time Grand Slam record."

Federer broke Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles when he won here three years ago. Another two records could be matched today.


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