With 20 Grand Slam titles on the bulletin board at almost 39, Roger Federer leads the all-time standings ahead of eternal rivals Rafael Nadal (19) and Novak Djokovic (17). What many forget is that the Swiss phenomenon had started to dominate tennis long before the advent of Spanish and Serbian.
As a result, his rivalries from the early 2000s were relegated to history books. The former World number 1 has led to memorable battles with players such as Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi and Marat Safin. The Russian played some truly epic encounters with Federer, even managing to beat him in the splendid semifinal of the Australian Open 2005, considered by many to be the most exciting and spectacular of all time.
Safin emerged in five sets after almost four and a half hours, having also saved a match point along the way. Marat, who would have taken the title in Melbourne that year, only defeated Roger once again in their 12 direct fights.
Interviewed by ESPN in the past few days, the two-time Grand Slam champion revealed that David Nalbandian and Roger Federer were the toughest opponents he has ever faced.
Safin on Roger Federer
"I remember that David Nalbandian beat me in the first match of the Davis Cup final (in 2006).
I didn't feel anything go by. I faced him several times and there was nothing I could do," said Marat Safin. "The only two players I felt I couldn't do anything with were David (Nalbandian) and Roger Federer," Safin added.
"Their level was incredible." Safin's final tournament as a professional tennis player was at the 2009 Paris Masters. In the first round, he saved three match points with three aces against Thierry Ascione, eventually prevailing with a total of 24 aces and 41 winners.
On 11 November 2009, Safin's career ended with a second-round defeat by reigning US Open champion Juan Martín del Potro, after which a special presentation ceremony was held on Centre Court at Bercy. Fellow tennis players who joined him in the ceremony included Juan Martín del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Gilles Simon, Tommy Robredo, Frederico Gil, Ivo Karlović, Albert Costa, Marc Rosset, and Younes El Aynaoui.
Marat is known as one of the most talented players ever during his time on the tour, however his career was hampered by persistent injuries and lack of determination that prevented the prolongation of his dominance, and is therefore agreed by many pundits and fans as one of the biggest underachievers in tennis.
Safin was also known for his emotional outbursts during matches, and smashed numerous rackets. Safin is estimated to have smashed 48 racquets in 1999.