It took Roger Federer 24 matches, with 8 victories and 16 defeats, to break into the top 100 on 20 September 1999, at number 95. The climb, thereafter, was at breakneck speed. But much before that happened, he was already being heralded as the next big thing in tennis — the 'next Pete Sampras'.
The ponytail was ever-present and the odd tantrum made us realise he was still a teenager, but every now and then, he would play a shot of such exquisite grace that we would all be awestruck.
When he takes the court against Juan Martin Del Potro on Tuesday for a spot in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, he will play his 1,000th match on the ATP circuit.
In an increasingly crowded calendar, with players complaining about the schedule, it is a feat that deserves to be applauded. Only Jimmy Connors (1479 matches), Ivan Lendl (1310), Guillermo Vilas (1197), Andre Agassi (1144), Stefan Edberg (1076) and John McEnroe (1073) have played more matches than him.
As things stand, Federer's win-loss record is pretty amazing, too. He’s managed to stack up 813 wins to 186 losses — most of which came in the early years. His career haul of 70 titles, includes 16 Grand Slams.
"It's been a lot of matches, and I remember some very vividly," Federer told ESPN.
“Some I've started to forget, which I guess is a good sign.
“I have had some tough losses over the years, but I've also had some of the most incredible feelings out there.
“I never thought as a kid I would ever cry after I won matches, because I always used to cry after I lost every single match when I was sort of from 8 to basically 15.
“It was always emotional because I always tried my best, and whenever I lost for me it was tragic. So the first time I was able to sort of I cried after I have won a match, I was like, What the hell is happening to me? I can’t believe I care so much about this sport which I love so much. It came as a surprise.”
But most of the matches he played had the rare ability to elevate the sport to a higher plain; you instinctively felt as if you were watching the greatest player on the planet. We pick out our five favourite Federer matches:
1. Wimbledon 2008 — Final versus Nadal:
The Wimbledon final will always be up there as one of the best, regardless of how many matches Federer goes on to play. Two points from victory, the No. 1-ranked Federer couldn't pull it out, instead succumbing to No. 2 Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 in a 4-hour, 48-minute battle of wills that was the longest men’s final in Wimbledon history. Nadal completely dominated the Swiss star for the first two sets but then Federer fought back – desperately. It was a match that showcased the will of the champion. He might have lost but there was really no loser in this match.
2. US Open 2005 — Final versus Agassi
Andre Agassi was the old master and Federer – the young, quick samurai. New York always had the ability to inspire the former World number one to new heights; against Federer, he needed every inch he could get. Federer took the first set easily but Agassi came back to take the second. It came down to the third tie-break. Both players were playing well; they had found their range, or so we thought. Federer responded to the pressure by reeling off seven straight points in the tiebreak that turned the match around, then blew Agassi away in the fourth set to win 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1. After the win, his stunning record in finals over the past two years stood at 23-0. “This is probably the most special Grand Slam final in my career," Federer had then said. “To play against Andre in New York, it's a dream.”
3. US Open 2004 – Final versus Hewitt
Federer annihilated Hewitt 6-0, 7-6, 6-0. He lost just five points in the first set, and this against a player who for the early part of his career knew how to beat Federer. This is an important win simply because it allowed Federer to break free from mediocrity – from this point on, he was pure genius.
4. French Open 2011 – Semi-final versus Novak Djokovic
By the time, Federer waltzed into Paris, his obituaries were being written. He was being beaten by players – big and small. The aura was fading and then once again, he was running into the hot hand. Djokovic was having the perfect season – unbeaten in 43 matches and only getting better with every outing, but Federer still had something to prove. The 16-time Grand Slam champion beat the second-seeded Serb 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
It wasn’t the only streak he had ended. In 2001, when he was 19 and in his Centre Court debut, Federer beat Pete Sampras in five sets, snapping the four-time defending champion's 31-match win streak at the All England Club and he did the same to Nadal, snapping the Spaniard’s 81-match clay-court hot streak at Hamburg in 2007.
5. Australian Open – Quarterfinal versus Juan Martin del Potro
It was so easy that Federer seemed a bit embarrassed to celebrate that. A consummate display from the former world number one, albeit against an opponent who gave up rather too quickly but still the scoreline made scary reading: 6-3, 6-0, 6-0. Federer left del Potro perpetually scrambling, and the Argentine rarely found himself in an offensive position during the entire course of the match. The Swiss master will be hoping for a repeat on Tuesday.
Honourable mention: Federer’s win at the 2009 French Open. The final stamp on his greatness. A clay court Grand Slam in his kitty at last.
Think we've missed out on a few obvious picks? Tell us what your favourite Federer matches are in the comments section.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Jan 23, 2012 18:20:34 IST