Last Friday, in the city of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, home of the largest sea port in Europe, another remarkable Swiss timekeeper, with the country’s worldwide accepted standard of clockwork precision excellence, once again docked at the number one ranking of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
In defeating the highest ranked hometown favourite, Robert Hasse, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, in the quarter-finals of the Rotterdam Open, Roger Federer, a wild card entry, at the grand old age (in terms of modern professional tennis) of thirty-six years had returned to the top of the Men’s tennis world. It has been five years and one hundred and six days, the longest ever break between stints at the apogee, in the history of the rankings, since Federer’s name had filled the slot.
On Sunday, for good measure, Federer sailed past Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 to win the tournament, his ninety-seventh title on the ATP Tour, twelve short of Jimmy Connors all-time record. Federer is now entering the realms of uncharted territory. At an age when most sportsmen in disciplines that demand high levels of energy for extended periods of time are throttling back, he appears to be accelerating to new heights.
In January, he retained his Australian Open title, thus, equalling Roy Emerson and Novak Djokovic with six championships. Coupled with the eight Wimbledon wins, he became the first player to win at least six Grand Slams at two events. In case you missed it, highly improbable, unless you were hibernating, it was his record setting twentieth Grand Slam, his third in the last five. Actually, it was the third in the last four that he has entered, having skipped the 2017 clay court season, inclusive of the French Open.
After losing in the semi-finals of the 2016 Australian Open to Djokovic, the Swiss champion slipped in the bathroom, tearing the meniscus in his left knee. Ironically, his first major injury, which had occurred off the court, coupled with a lingering back injury forced his anguished withdrawal a few months later from the French Open. For the first time since he joined the tour, seventeen years earlier, Federer was forced to miss a Grand Slam, bringing an end to his streak at sixty-five consecutive events.
Following a close five set defeat in the semi-finals of Wimbledon a few weeks later, Federer made the difficult decision to withdraw from the rest of the season, including the Rio Summer Olympics. “The doctors advised that if I want to play on the ATP World Tour injury free, for another few years, as I intend to do, I must give both my knee and my body the proper time to fully recover,” a disappointed Federer declared.
The perennial ATP Fan Favourite heeded his doctors’ advice to the letter, and returned early last year and stunned the tennis world with his commanding play on the way to his eighteenth and nineteenth Grand Slam titles. When trying to put his achievements over the last fourteen months in perspective, it is necessary to remember how many variables are at play in the world of modern tennis.
The influence of the lightning fast technology sector has become an important factor. Constant innovations in string and racquet development are rapidly changing and re-shaping tennis. The latest video analysis of opponents by members of the leading players’ coteries, which also includes specialized nutrition, conditioning and strength advisors, and practice partners, are all parts of the ever evolving process of the modern game.
Somehow, Federer, who for a substantial part of his career, had no formal coach has been able to steer clear of all the distractions of the tour, and with a just small group, of which his wife, Mirka, a former tennis professional who reached number seventy-six on the ATP rankings, plays a major role, has managed to reach previously unheard of summits.
His approach, according to one of the few allowed into his inner sanctum, Paul Annacone, who coached Federer for four years, is one of keeping things in perspective. Roger is not a creature of habit, and is just as likely to sleep in late and miss practice, or miss it all together and go to the museum with his Mirka, and their two sets of twins, a pair of girls and a pair of boys. Federer may be laid back and low key in his approach, but on the court, few can match his competitiveness.
Having virtually re-written the record books in terms of Grand Slams, the only record remaining to claim is Australian Ken Rosewall ‘s achievement of being the oldest player, at thirty-seven years, two months and one day, to win a Grand Slam, which he achieved back in another era, at the 1972 Australian Open.
Can Federer get there? His immediate contemporaries, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal appear to have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the Swiss’ second coming. We should bear in mind his incredible streak of twenty-three straight Grand Slam semi-finals (the previous best was ten by Ivan Lendl) which ended with a four set quarter-final loss to Robin Soderling at the 2010 French Open. This man is obviously capable of conquering anything he sets his mind to.
The former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash attributes Federer’s resurgence to an improved backhand, a more consistent serve, a new racquet and clever scheduling of the tournaments he plays now.
As, he enters his 304th combined week as the World’s Number One, another record, where does one look to find another sportsman of Federer’s ilk? Perhaps, boxing’s Sugar Ray Robinson, who compiled a 173-19-6 (2 no contests) record in 200 fights between 1940 and 1965?
The Swiss are the world’s leading watch and clock makers, traditionally noted for their craftsmanship and their mark of quality. The list of the top brands is a matter of great debate, and subject to personal taste. However, most lists will include the following famous names, Breitling, Omega, TAG Heuer, Zenith, Blancpain, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breguet, Rolex, Patek Phillipe.
Now, it is time to add Roger Federer, the Swiss answer to Father Time.