Roger Federer: An Artist among Artisans by Jim Cole Every major sport has "One" - the once in 100-year athlete - that sport's greatest of all time. Soccer has Lionel Messi now.
Cricket has Donald Bradman. Baseball has Willie Mays. Tennis has Roger Federer. What is it that makes Roger so loved and recognized in the world, with such a strong fan base in every tournament, together with the appreciation of the great majority of sports writers and tennis experts?
Federer's first serve is relatively modest in a time of smash-and-grab service games, with an average speed in the 115 - 120 miles per hour range.
What separates Federer's serve from others is his ability to produce a wide variety of deliveries from a single motion. His second serve is not overwhelming but rather a professional grade weapon. YTD Service games won 91%.
Federer is exceptionally quick to pick up an opponent's service delivery and move into position to neutralize the server's advantage with a very consistent service return game.
"It's uncanny - he's never out of place," tennis legend Rod Laver has observed. Federer prefers to use his return game, to set up his offense with the second ball. YTD return games won
Federer's racquet control with his ground strokes is simply magical.
In contrast to the ubiquitous two hand backhand, Federer is a one-handed wonder, producing seemingly impossible shots from almost anywhere on the court.
Federer is a master volley hitter. His anticipation and footing at the net are superior, allowing him to close on the net quickly and finish points very early with angled volleys.
As may be expected, Federer's net game is most effective on the grass courts at Wimbledon.
No player's game is perfect though, and Federer has two flaws.
In the first case, Federer has fought a career-long battle with high bouncing baseline balls to his backhand side.
More than anything else, this flaw is simply an inherent weakness of the Australian grip Federer uses on the backhand side. The weakness here is a slightly open face while playing balls above the shoulder. Federer defends this flaw with a run-a-round forehand.
Rafael Nadal, better than anyone else, can exploit this weakness in Federer's game with good results, particularly on clay. The second flaw in Federer's game is the result of 16 years wear and tear on the ATP Tour.
Federer has to be very careful to avoid punishing exchanges from the baseline and as a result will too often try to bring points to a quick ending. The problem here is Federer does not have the temperament, power, or style of play to sustain this kind of offense indefinitely.
The Intangible. Above all else, Federer is a "Big Match" player. Federer's Record and Results Roger Federer did not burst onto the international tennis scene like a comet. Nor was his spectacular coronation as future king of the men's tour with a 4th round, 5 set, win over Pete Sampras at Wimbledon 2001 a complete surprise.
After all, Federer had a fabulous junior career, winning the Boy's Singles and Doubles in London in 1998. It was just a matter of time before Federer assumed his place on Tour and in tennis history. What was surprising was the opponent and the venue: Pete Sampras on Centre Court at Wimbledon, the ‘mecca’ of tennis.
It was a "Big Match" scenario that Federer would claim as his hallmark for most of the next 13 years. "He knows he's going to continue to play well...he could very well end up with eight or nine Wimbledon titles" Pete Sampras said in 2012.
Federer's 16-year career record unwinds like a reel of highlight film: 308 weeks ranked #1 ATP Tour; Tour Winnings 83.1 Million; 17 Grand Slam Singles Titles; 62 ATP Tournament wins, and; 1 Olympic Silver Medal (Singles) and 1 Olympic Gold Medal (Doubles).
His career singles win/loss record is 963/223 or 82% in Federer's favor. Amazingly, Federer has never retired from a match, not once in 1,154 matches. "What I think I've been able to do well over the years is play with pain, play with problems, play in all sorts of conditions," said Federer.
This is a tour record he holds alone and testament to his terrier-like durability and sheer toughness. In 2012 John McEnroe said "if Roger stopped right now...never won another match...he’d still be the greatest I have ever seen." These statistics and comments paint a picture of Federer.
But to take full measure of Federer's style, there is no substitute for watching him play live and in person. The first thing you will notice watching Federer in person is the sound he achieves striking the ball. The sound is not much different than the crack of a lightning bolt during a storm.
There is the uncommon absence of frustration with himself. Federer is not the fastest man on Tour, but his economy of motion and exceptional anticipation give the appearance of great quickness and balance. Any extraneous movement or sharp edges in his ground strokes and volleys has been worn smooth and polished by 16 years of competition on the ATP Tour.
In an age of blunt-force trauma tennis, Federer is an absolute artist at mixing pace, spin, trajectory, and placement to keep an opponent off balance and out of control. Beloved by Fans all over the World Federer is beloved by legions of tennis fans.
Federer's sense of good spirited play, sportsmanship, and style of play transcend national, social, economic boundaries around the world, opening the door for fans everywhere to share in the pure pleasure of watching him play the game.
Even his peers hold him in the highest regard. "I'd love to hate you" said Andy Roddick in 2012 after another loss to Federer, "but you are too nice of a guy." The Run-Up to the 2014 US Open With his 5-set loss in the Final of The 2014 Wimbledon Championships to Novak Djokovic, it seems as if Federer's career is coming into full turn: from Prince heir apparent to an aging King reluctant to release his hold on the thrown.
"When you do something best in life," said Federer, "You don't really want to give that up - and for me that is tennis." Federer is 32 years old, the same age Pete Sampras was 13 years ago when they faced each other for the first and only time at Wimbledon in 2001.
How much longer he can sustain his level of play is anyone's guess. While retirement is a topic relevant to most 32-year-old tour veterans, Federer made the topic irrelevant by reaching the finals of Wimbledon just 4 weeks ago - certainly not the results of someone ready for a porch and rocking chair.
With the US Open 4 weeks in the future, Federer is preparing for the final grand slam event of the year on the hard courts in New York, USA. His chance of winning his 18th grand slam in New York is small. Prior to the recent Wimbledon Final, two years had passed since Federer's last grand slam Final.
Two years without a major win. This much is pretty clear. For Federer to win the final major of the year in New York in September he must play the final four rounds of the tournament in 15 or fewer sets. A win in 18, 19, or 20 sets from the round of 16 to the finish seems like too much to ask or to hope for with Federer.
Whether Federer can accomplish another Grand Slam win or not, I will watch him go as deep into the draw as his heart and legs carry him. I will watch him and cheer for him because in my lifetime he is the "One" - the greatest tennis player of all time.
Sources: Arnab Zaheen, federmagic2005.
Kevin Mitchell, the guardian.com March 2014
ATP World Tour
For the Win. usatoday, Chris Chase, March, 2014
ESPN Tennis, Aug, 2012
A Tribute Video to Roger Federer: .