By Romi Cvitkovic
Roger Federer has claimed a multitude of records in tennis and now he can add one more to his list of accolades: World No. 1 for a record 287 weeks, bypassing great legends such as Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
Federer has been the face of tennis since 2004 when he first catapulted to the top, holding the No. 1 ranking for a record 237 consecutive weeks from February 2, 2004 to August 18, 2008. In what many consider to be the greatest and most competitive era of all time, holding the top spot that long without break was enough to solidify him in the top echelons among all sports. He has claimed not only countless record titles, including 17 Grand Slam titles, 20 ATP Masters 1000 titles, 6 ATP World Tour finals and reached 32 Grand Slam semifinals, but he has also been a repeat recipient for some of sports’ greatest awards, including the Laureus World Sports and ESPY awards.
But it did not always come so easy for Federer. As a kid, he threw fits on court and could be found crying after losses — the latter not being hard to believe given his breakdown after the finals of the 2009 Australian Open. His emotional outbursts as a child may have simply been growing pains, or conversely, tell-tale signs of a future elite player. But no one could have guessed just to what degree his talent would climb. So, are legends born or molded?
In tennis, good athletes come along in constant cycles, reaching the top 100 or so in rankings, great athletes tinker with the top 20 rankings, and excellent athletes hold solidly in the top 5. But legends, they are unlike any species in sports — they dare to dream and achieve the impossible, breaking records and standing as ambassadors. And Roger Federer could already proudly stand at the pinnacle with sporting legends such as Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali, and Michael Jordan.
After winning his seventh Wimbledon earlier this month at a ripe age of 30, Federer made a confession about his development as a player.
“I never thought I’d be that good. I really never thought that … When I won [Wimbledon] in 2003, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I was going to win Wimbledon and have my kids seeing me lift the trophy… I was considered a big talent. I was considered good in Switzerland first and then at 16, 17 internationally I was making a few dents so I thought ‘ooh, maybe something is possible here, maybe I can make the top 100’. But I was never like ‘I’m going to be world No.1’. That was more like a fantasy, a dream, an idea.”
For Federer it seems to have been equal parts talent and training, combined with some interspersed luck, that got him to this point in life. When he was a junior player, he had the shots and technique, but couldn’t quite put together consistent winning games. With time, some emotional restraint, and his ability to turn weaknesses into strengths, he has achieved what athletes only dream of. And what is scary is that he’s not even near finished — aiming to not only play the London Olympics this summer but hopeful of playing in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
Congratulations Roger, and thank you for your inspiration, thirst for the best, and for bringing tennis the most graceful one-handed backhand in history!
Check out the ATP World Tour video tribute below that includes interviews on Federer’s legacy from the likes of Marat Safin, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg and Ken Rosewall.
(video and photo credit: ATP World Tour)