When many people think of men’s tennis, the first name that comes to mind is Roger Federer. The Swiss star has captivated his fans since the start of his career 22 years ago in 1998, when he won the junior Wimbledon title as well as the prestigious Orange Bowl in Miami. Three years later, after initially struggling to make an impact at the highest level, Federer claimed what was then the biggest win of his career by upsetting the great Pete Sampras in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Federer, only 19, won in a five set thriller, stunning the seven-time Wimbledon champion, 7-6 (7) 5-7 6-4 6-7 (2) 7-5. The victory was Federer’s first on Centre Court. After the match, Federer said that the ‘match will give me as much confidence as I can get. This is the biggest win of my life’. Although he was then beaten by Tim Henman in the quarterfinals, he claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003 only two years later, beating Mark Philippoussis in the final in straight-sets.
For the next five years, Federer reigned as the undisputed king of the tennis world, surpassing the fading legends Sampras and Agassi whilst dominating most of his contemporaries such as Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick, who collectively scored only a handful wins against Federer over the course of their careers. The rise of Rafael Nadal and then Novak Djokovic brought a renewed challenge to Federer’s supremacy, but even at the age of 38, he remains ranked inside the top four.
Indeed, Federer’s durability at the top of the men’s game is a testament to his quality. It has done much to enhance his claim to be the greatest of all time, which has come under a determined assault from his great rivals, Nadal and Djokovic. Federer also remains surely the world’s most popular player, with his matches invariably played in front of a full house and attracting massive TV ratings, with his legions of fans always eager to watch him in action.
His popularity is based not only on his slick groundstrokes and attacking style, although that has surely helped his cause, but also his never-say-die attitude and the way he makes his opponents work hard to earn every point. Federer has also won the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship award a record 13 times, whilst being voted the fan’s favourite 17 times in a row. He is now approaching the end of his career, but when retirement does come for the Swiss, he will surely go down as one of the greatest of all time and a gentleman of the sport.
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