In a career full of so many spectacular highs and incredible achievements, it’s extremely difficult to whittle these down into a list of 10 of the greatest moments during Roger Federer’s time as a top professional tennis player.
But more than any others, these 10 events helped cement his status and define his legacy, which is that of arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. We’ll go chronologically, beginning from the Swiss’ time as a pony-tailed raw talent to the stately, revered, almost regal figure he cuts in world sport today.
10. Victory over Pete Sampras at Wimbledon 2001
At the time, it was a match-up between one of the greatest players in history and a talented young upstart. But looking back, it represented the passing of the baton. Federer and Sampras have dominated Wimbledon like no other players, and at the tail-end of Sampras’ magnificent career and the beginning of Federer’s magical one, it was the only professional meeting between the pair. Federer was victorious 7-5 in the fifth set, and after long being touted as a potential champion, this match confirmed the Swiss’ ability to match it with the big guns of the sport, and beat them.
9. First Grand Slam title at Wimbledon 2003
His defeat of Sampras may have announced his arrival, but it would be a further two years before Federer would finally achieve the greatness many had predicted of him earlier in his career. Having spent those two years fine-tuning his game, smoothing out rough edges and improving his consistency and concentration, Federer systemically disposed of Mark Philippoussis in the final to hold aloft his first Grand Slam trophy.
8. Ascent to No.1 in February 2004
Victory at the Australian Open in 2004 – which he achieved by defeating Marat Safin in a straight-set final – secured the No.1 ranking for Federer for the first time in his career. Now holding two major trophies in the past six months, he was able to leapfrog Andy Roddick, who finished the 2003 season as the world’s top player. Federer would remain No.1 for a record-breaking 237 consecutive weeks.
7. Incredible 2006 season
With victory at the Tennis Masters Cup in China in November 2006, Federer completed one of the most impressive seasons in tennis history. The Swiss accumulated stratospheric statistics – a win-loss record of 92-5, 12 titles (among them three Grand Slams), $8.3 million in prizemoney and 16 finals from 17 tournaments.
6. Fifth consecutive Wimbledon title in 2007
By winning Wimbledon in 2007, Federer joined Bjorn Borg as the only player in the Open Era to win at the All England Club in five straight years. The fact that it came thanks to a gritty five-set win over nemesis Rafael Nadal in the final made victory all the more sweet.
5. Wimbledon final 2008 – Federer v Nadal
Although Federer lost this match, the glorious four hour and 48 minute encounter has been hailed by tennis commentators and fans as the greatest tennis match of all time. Federer helped make it so – despite looking headed for certain defeat when he faced a match point in the fourth set tiebreak, he produced a stunning backhand passing shot winner down the line before going on to send the match into a decisive fifth set. Before a rapturous crowd, rapidly descending darkness and the glittering flash-bulbs of cameras, Nadal finally closed out an epic 6-4 6-4 6-7(5) 6-7(8) 9-7 win.
4. First French Open title at Roland Garros 2009
Routinely stymied by claycourt giant Nadal (Federer fell to the Spaniard in the French Open semifinals in 2005 and finals in 2006, 2007 and 2008), Federer caught a break when Nadal was eliminated by Robin Soderling in the fourth round in Paris in 2009, his first ever loss at the French Open. Federer would eventually go on to face Soderling in the final, who was unable to replicate his heroics in a four-set finals loss. Federer had finally clinched the elusive Roland Garros title, giving him his 14th major title, helping him complete a Career Grand Slam, and cementing his status in many people’s eyes as the greatest tennis player of all time.
3. Wins record-breaking 15th major at Wimbledon 2009
Just weeks after his breakthrough at Roland Garros, Federer continued his magical European summer, passing Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles with his 15th Grand Slam singles win. It came, appropriately, at Federer’s beloved Wimbledon, where he won his sixth title after a titanic struggle against Andy Roddick that ended with Federer winning 16-14 in the fifth set.
2. Breaking out the tweeners – US Open 2009 and 2010
Everybody already knew that Federer was somewhat of an expert with a racquet, but this respect was taken to new heights when Federer pulled off two of the most unbelievable winners ever seen in tennis. Federer produced the “tweeners” on the biggest stage of all, at the US Open’s Arthur Ashe Stadium. Nobody loves a show more than the New York crowd, who erupted when Federer weaved his magic. His opponents – Novak Djokovic and Brian Dabul – could only smile and tip their hats.
> watch Federer’s tweener against Djokovic
1. Return to world No.1 in July 2012
One record that many people felt had slipped through Federer’s fingers was that of the most weeks at No.1. When Federer relinquished his hold over top spot for the last time in June 2010 – after Nadal won the French Open – he was just one week short of Sampras’ record of 286 weeks spent as the world’s No.1 player. Yet despite being written off, Federer continued to plug away before going on a tear post US Open 2011, winning seven titles from September to May and capping it off with his 17th major title at Wimbledon. His first Grand Slam win in two-and-a-half years returned the Swiss to top spot to help him equal, and eventually break, Sampras’ record.