THE TAINTING OF A LEGEND, NOBODY COMES CLOSE TO FED! (Age and family obligations catch up to us all)
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
UPDATE: To make things clear, the fact that both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are 5-6 years younger than Fed, will certainly play a factor in the final grand slam totals. With Djokovic capturing his 21st Grand Slam title, and his 7th Wimbledon title (1 short of Roger's record), despite his struggles in Australia and with the Covid-19 vaccine having been well-documented, and Nadal's continued good fortune at the French Open, things may seem even further tainted by the time it's all said and done. But let us never forget the greatness and dominance that Federer showed. He really set the standard, and inspired both the younger Djokovic and Nadal to heights I'm pretty sure they would never have come close to reaching without the legendary RF paving the path and showing them the way first. Sometimes in sports, numbers and stats can be a bit deceiving, and to keep this brief, and without wanting to disrespect the other two front-runners, especially Djokovic, because what he is doing and has done during the last decade truly is remarkable, I still believe Federer is simply untouchable in his own place in tennis history. I believe he was good for at least 25 Grand Slam Titles, but maybe that's just me. Cheers again Roger!
**I’d like to officially declare that last week at the US Open final, we have reached the low point in the history of tennis. Why, you say? Well, don’t get me wrong, Rafael Nadal is a good tennis player, at times perhaps even a great player, but the Spaniard, who started out as a one-surface wonder, whose dominance on clay and penchant for winning French Opens - a tournament which has greatly declined in importance over the last 2 decades - has now become the symbol of a movement, one that has seemingly been designed to drag down the amazing achievements and accomplishments of the greatest and most accomplished tennis player to ever grace a tennis court, the indomitable Swiss genius, Roger Federer.
Many may disagree with me when it comes to my take on Fed, and I say this with all respect and apologies due to legends such as Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Arthur Ashe, Jim Courier, and Andy Roddick, amongst many others. But let’s take a stroll down memory lane for a minute, shall we? And try to get a grasp on just exactly what we have lost.
I can remember so many brilliant late-summer epic semi-finals and finals, lasting well past 7 or 8 pm eastern time as day faded into dusk, and sometimes into night in Flushing Meadows. This was the stuff off dreams - watching Connors play up the crowd as McEnroe belched and whined, disgusted at every umpire’s call, but still being the charismatic and courageous shotmaker that he was. And of course, probably the most legitimate rival and challenge to Federer’s throne, Novak Djokovic, who also seems to be playing second fiddle to this Nadal marketing scheme in some respects, was once the young upstart who simply couldn’t beat Federer in his prime, despite having played amazingly in a few epic finals against him. He’s a multi-talented champion who, like Nadal, had to overcome a rash of serious injuries that threatened to end his career mid-thrust, and caused him to miss a huge block of time, but even he seems to be losing a PR battle to Nadal these days.
And this is even after his epic 5-set victory over Federer in this year’s Wimbledon Final, a tournament in which Federer easily dispatched of Nadal in the semi-final. He then thoroughly outplayed Djokovic, at least statistically, for most of the match, and seemingly was in control en route to having 3 match points, but a defiant Djokovic overcame it all to pull out a 13-11 victory in the 5th set to anoint this a certain “instant classic.” Even at age 38, and being the father of four, Fed still displays the mastery and grace he has shown time and time again throughout his amazing and brilliant career. No offense Rafa, but you’re just not in the same league, and you never will be as far as I’m concerned.
For those of you that were too young to see Federer in his prime, I won’t bore you with too many of the superlatives that can be strewn across the screen like the ticker of stocks on a Wall Street cable network. What I will share is what I feel are the most impressive stats in Federer’s brilliant career (to go with the fact that he does share my birthday, August 8, my absolute fave stat):
10 Consecutive men’s Grand Slam Finals reached (yes, that’s 2 and a half years worth!) followed by another streak of 8 in a row (2 more years!). 36 Consecutive Grand Slam quarter finals (9 straight years!) and 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals (nearly 6 full years!) This will never be equaled, but I never thought I’d see him lose 11 of a record 31 Finals appearances, most of those coming in the last 10 years or so, but it does not diminish his greatness, and nothing ever will. (www.wikipedia.com) And if hasn’t just been Grand Slam titles either. Federer has compiled one of the most impressive records on regular ATP events as well, and has the record for most weeks ranked #1 all-time (310) and most consecutive weeks at #1 (237)!!! I invite you to visit Wikipedia’s site for the full impressive list of all his accomplishments - believe me, it will blow your mind!!
Here are my top 5 men’s Finals in US Open History:
1) Federer dispatched of five of the tennis world’s most prominent champions from 2004-08, starting with Lleyton Hewitt, and then continuing on with Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Djokovic in 2007, and Andy Murray. Agassi was nearing the end of his career, and was ever gracious in defeat, as Fed’s combination of power and pinpoint accuracy was simply too much for him. Only a surprising and bizarre, heartbreaking defeat in 2009 to Juan Martin Del Potro, thwarted his attempt to capture a 6th consecutive US Open Championship. Somehow, Federer was kept from accomplishing this by the gritty Argentine, who in a similar fashion to Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon Final, managed to overcome a 2 sets to one deficit, and outlast Fed for his first ever grand slam title.
2) McEnroe vs Borg in 1980 - I was a young tot, but I remember McEnroe with his epic wooden racket, and the loudest of voices, protesting call after call, but managing to stay focused enough to pull out a 5-set thriller to outlast the legendary Swede, 6-4 in the 5th set! McEnroe would defeat Borg again the following year, and defeat Ivan Lendl to win his 4th US Open title, one short of his longtime rival, Jimmy Connors’, total of 5, tied with Fed for most in the Open Era. Nadal and Djokovic now also have 4 apiece.
3) Ivan Lendl falling short in 5 sets to Mats Wilander, another player who was often overlooked in his day, and often underestimated, but he was definitely one of the most skilled players ever to grace the US Open court. Always crafty, Wilander had enough of a variety of shots to keep the dominant and overpowering Lendl at bay and off-balance. Lendl appeared in a record eight US Open Finals in a row from 1982-89, winning 3 of them (all in a row) from 1985-87. Lendl was probably the second most dominant player in the history of tennis in my opinion, second to Federer, with Djokovic coming in 3rd, followed by Nadal and Sampras to round out the top 5.
4) In 1995, Pete Sampras won his US Open by defeating Andre Agassi in a final that everybody wanted to see. Agassi fought valiantly, but in the end, he couldn’t defeat his nemesis in the 4-set finale. Sampras was in his prime, winning his first of 5 US Open titles, which stands tied for the most all-time along with Federer. His record of 14 overall grand slam titles also stood many years, until it was eclipsed by Federer in 2009, a record that Federer has extended, but of course seen the once sizable lead in grand slams cut to one over Nadal.
5) Tied for most memorable would have to be Boris Becker’s 1988 triumph over Lendl, including Becker’s constant and thrilling acrobatics, as he covered every millimeter of the court, or so it seemed to defeat the slower Lendl. Equally stunning was Stefan Edberg’s 1992 upset victory over Sampras, in which the crafty Swede used every weapon in his arsenal, and had everything working on this day to pull out the 4-set victory. And finally, both Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka’s upset victories over Novak Djokovic, which each turned out to be epic marathons that kept the crowd on their feet from start to finish for nearly 4 hours, as they witnessed thrilling tie-breakers and constant epic rallies culminating in back and forth breathtaking winners by each player, before eventually a champion was crowned (www.usopen.org).
****I only have one small parting word for women’s tennis - fittingly making mention of Serena Williams, the female equivalent to Roger Federer in our modern era. Starting as the Willams Sisters, when for several years, older sister Venus was the more dominant of the two, and followed by the changing of the guard - these two have been the centerpieces in women’s tennis for what now seems to be decades, and it is. Despite the emergence of several young phenoms (many of whom even happen to be African American), tennis seems to claim that tennis needs Serena to “keep the sport’s interest alive, and use her to help usher in a new generation of young players that will keep the flame lit.” Really? Even post maternity? I’d say Madison Keys, Sloane Stevens, and now Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka are doing just fine, wouldn’t you? As if Maria Sharapova, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Jennifer Capriati, Mary Pierce, and Caroline Wozniaki weren’t capable of doing that as well? I think it’s time we move on and let the Williams sisters finally retire so that these younger players can have their time to shine. I’d say it’s about time, wouldn’t you?*****