NEWS

How Roger Federer has spent 303 weeks at the top

February 19, 2018

As his prolific tennis career continues to hit the heights at an age when most players are coaching, commentating or at least confined to doubles, it seems difficult to find any words left to describe the ongoing brilliance of Roger Federer.

Fans watching him at the Championships, Wimbledon as a 19-year-old when he knocked out reigning champion Pete Sampras in 2001 might well have imagined he would be a future champion, a multiple Grand Slam winner and a future world number one. But there was little then to indicate that he would smash almost every record in the book. 

His tally of eight men's titles at the All England Club is one of these, of course, as is his tally of 20 Grand Slams, more than any other man. He has a chance to add to both of these at SW19 this summer, but before then he will be able to extend another record every week. 

The 302 weeks Federer had spent at world number one in his career had already been a record, but he added to that when he beat Robin Haase to reach the semi-finals of the Rotterdam Open - and with it became, at 36, the oldest world number one, three years older than Andre Agassi. 

As might be expected, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion went on to win the tournament, beating Grigor Dimitrov in the final. It was his 97th ATP title and brings Jimmy Connors' record of 109 a bit closer. 

That may be just about the last record he can realistically aim for, but few will be surprised if he achieves it. The hunger is clearly still there, however much he publicly talks of simply being happy to be healthy and playing. Indeed, both when he won in Melbourne last month and when he defeated Haase to reclaim top spot, tears flowed. Glory still matters to this insatiable genius. 

If the most wonderful thing about Federer now is that he can still be the best at his age, his previous stints at number one provide a broader picture of a career of unsurpassed brilliance.

Federer first went top in February 2004, at a time when he was establishing a firm grip on the men's game - a period that included five successive Wimbledon crowns. He was already the champion when he went top and added his second title on the famous grass courts in June that year to extend his advantage at the top. 

This was the most golden of periods for Federer as he spent over four years continuously at the top before Rafael Nadal replaced him in August 2008, weeks after winning the most epic of finals against the Swiss maestro. However, Federer regained top spot when he won his sixth Wimbledon crown 11 months later. 

Nadal took top spot away with his second Wimbledon victory a year later, and with the emergence of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, Federer slipped as low as fourth in 2011. But, just as it seemed his Grand Slam days might be behind him, he repeated the trick of 2009 by returning to the top with another Wimbledon title.

This third spell at the top lasted until November that year, with Djokovic sweeping to the top and Murray moving into second before winning his first Wimbledon title. Moreover, it seemed likely that would be that for Federer as Djokovic reached ever greater heights and age appeared to be catching up with a man seemingly stuck on 17 Grand Slams for good.  

Indeed, at the start of 2017, Federer was as low as 17th in the rankings. Stan Wawrinka was now the pre-eminent Swiss player, having just won the 2016 US Open - not only his third Grand Slam, but the third since Federer's 2012 Wimbledon win. Having just come back from a long lay-off with a knee injury, it seemed it would be nice to see Federer out on court again, but nothing more than that. 
 
Instead, this veteran genius has confounded everyone all over again. Federer is now sure to be top until at least the middle of March when he seeks to defend his Indian Wells title. And whether or not he is still on top come Wimbledon, his appearance will once again be the most eagerly anticipated of all. 

Image: Scott Barbour/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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