By SAMMY BHATIA
Roger Federer is among those few individuals on Earth whose omnipotence is incontestable. Much like Michael Jordan, much like Tiger Woods, much like Pelé, the Swiss tennis player is the greatest his sport has ever seen. He has won 17 Grand Slam titles, more than any other player in history.
He held the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) World No. 1 title for longer than any other player in history — 302 weeks. Other world records he holds: most Wimbledons won (7), most U.S. Opens won (5), longest grass court match streak of all time (65 consecutive matches from 2003-2008).
Perhaps all you need to know to put his career in scope is that the “List of career achievements by Roger Federer” Wikipedia page is longer than Federer’s actual Wikipedia page.
Federer made his first splash in the pro circuit in 2001 when he, a wide-eyed 20-year-old with a vicious temper, defeated four-time defending champion Pete Sampras at Wimbledon and made it into to the quarterfinals, having never been past the first round before. By the end of the next year he was ranked No. 6 in the world.
In 2003, he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and three of the four in 2004, finally claiming the coveted World No. 1 title, which he continued to hold for 237 consecutive weeks. In 2009 he finally won the elusive French Open title, achieving a “career Grand Slam,” a feat accomplished by only six other players in tennis history.
He was officially regarded as the greatest of all time after the 2009 Wimbledon final when he overtook Sampras’s record of 14 major titles. His most recent Grand Slam victory came in 2012 at Wimbledon, defeating Andy Murray to win his 17th major and reclaim World No. 1.
Since then, however, his career’s future has been continually questioned by fans and critics. The 2013 season saw his first real slump as he was riddled by a chronic back injury and faltering confidence on court, perhaps brought on by his old age.
He dropped to No. 7 in the world, his lowest ranking in 11 years. He won only one title at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, a more minor and insignificant title, worth only 250 ATP points (as compared to a Grand Slam, worth 2000 points).
Compared to his unrivaled past, such as in 2006 when he seized 12 titles of the 17 he competed in, losing only five matches all year, Federer’s future in the professional circuit came into question. As the defending champion he lost in the second round of Wimbledon to World No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky.
However, he bounced back. The 32-year-old Swiss Maestro made a few key strategic decisions that breathed some life back into his career. First he hired a coach. Federer had been the only player in the world’s top 20 without a coach simply because he claimed he didn’t need one.
Now, however, with his back against the wall, he hired the great Stefan Edberg, a fellow former World No. 1 and his childhood idol, to jumpstart his career’s final years.
Secondly, he switched from a sub-90 square inch racket head to a more manageable, more modern 97-square-inch frame, which allowed him to generate some more much needed power in his stroked and reduce his margin for error.
Nevertheless, things never quite got all the way back to the way they were. Federer reached the 2014 Wimbledon Finals, falling to Novak Djokovic, and again in 2015 both at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open.
He ended 2014 at World No. 2 with five titles under his belt, more match wins than any other player on tour and a maiden Davis Cup title for Switzerland. To date, he has won five titles this year and is currently sitting at World No. 3.
It is understandable, however, that at 34 years of age he may not play the same tennis he did a decade ago. Most players who entered the tour at his age are either long retired or in the final dregs of their careers; For example, Andy Roddick retired at the 2012 US Open at 30 years old and Lleyton Hewitt, also 34, is in his final year on tour.
Not only has Federer announced his desire to play past the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, he has repeatedly shut down reporters asking him about retirement plans.
And no matter how old he admittedly is for a professional player, why ought he retire when he is still among the handful of dominant players? There has been little to no challenge posed by the tour’s young guns, all in their early 20s, at which age Federer himself had already risen to insurmountable heights.
Perhaps this could be a testament to a lack of the same talent in the younger generation, but it is more likely indicative of the sheer talent possessed by the greatest player of all time, alongside the likes of Djokovic, Murray and Nadal (who admittedly is deep in his own slump), aptly named the “Big Four.”
Tim Henman, another retired great, said about the man, “I don’t think there’s anyone that hits the ball like that. Sure, if you take Roddick’s serve and Agassi’s returns and my volleys and Hewitt’s speed and tenacity, then you’ve probably got a good chance against Federer. That’s a lot of people involved in, you know, one player.”
A few things are certain: Federer is nowhere near a place where he even needs to consider retirement, and there is a not-so-slight chance that he may snatch one more Grand Slam title. Or more.