As the third major of the season begins this week, Roger Federer is once again among the small list of favorites to claim his eighth Wimbledon crowd. So I ponder the question today: is Roger Federer the perfect athlete?
Federer has been at the top of the tennis world for 13 years, winning a record 18 majors while amassing a ridiculous 81.7% winning percentage – 1104-247. After missing the majority of 2016 with knee and back injuries, many thought that we had seen the last of Federer’s dominance. He has responded by winning four of the six tournaments he has entered, including his first event of the season, the Australian Open.
He will likely go down as the greatest tennis player of all-time, though he likely isn’t close to being done racking up the accomplishments and titles. At 35, he is still at a level that no one has even come close to at his age, even though the game is more physical, powerful, and demanding than ever before. After missing nearly six months at the end of 2016, Federer didn’t just rest and spend time with his two sets of twins. He revamped his backhand and finally took full advantage of an equipment change that hampered his game at the start of 2014.
Federer used to use a racket with a 90 square-inch frame, and switched to a 97 square-inch frame. The 90-inch racket had a much smaller hitting area than what the rest of the pros were using, which gave him precise control on his pinpoint and perfect shots. But with the top players getting stronger and faster, Federer decided to switch to a more modern sized racket that would give him more power and spin but less control. He struggled adjusting to the new racket, especially since he wanted to get match experience right away with the new stick. Eventually he adjusted to the new frame, and he is clearly reaping the benefits of the switch now.
Federer attributed his comfort with his bigger racket for his success at this year’s Aussie Open, which was clearly visible in the final against Rafael Nadal. He was able to take control of points and dictate play against the most aggressive player possibly in the history of tennis. This adaptability and willingness to change both his game and his tactics is one of the main reasons he is the best tennis player ever.
Most of the top players in their sports are hated by many fans. Lots of people (myself included) hate LeBron James, and many have recently put Kevin Durant on their most-hated list as well. If you’re a non-Patriots fan (like myself), you probably detest Tom Brady for one reason or another – most have to do with the winning and the alleged cheating. As a huge tennis fan, I really hated Pete Sampras growing up. I hated the fact that he always won, that he had no personality, and his style of play bored the death out of me.
But no one hates Roger Federer. He has never had an incident on or off the court. He is not only well-liked but totally admired by his opponents, his peers, and fans around the world. There is not one bad thing that can or ever has been said about Federer. His humility and sense of humor seems to have grown over the years, as seen in an interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi prior to Wimbledon this year.
When asked what the number 1,104 meant, Roger knew that was the amount of matches that he had won in his career (he said the press had mentioned it when he won #1100 at the start of the Gerry Weber Open two weeks ago. When asked how many matches he’s played, he guessed 1,500, and when they told him the correct answer (1,351), he said while laughing that he knew that meant he had lost a lot of matches. When asked who the favorite at Wimbledon was, he said there were a few players that have a great shot at winning, and when he was asked again, he said while laughing yet again that he’ll answer it the same way but good try at asking it again.
He’s won this tournament seven times, and he just won a tune-up two weeks ago, so he knows he’s one of the favorites. But he knows how the media works, and the added pressure that would be placed on him if he mentioned his name among the favorites. He did the same thing at the Aussie Open, stating that he would be thrilled with winning a couple matches or just making it to the second week in his return to the tour. But in reality, he would have never entered the event if he didn’t think he could win, and his belief was evident in every tough match, and clearly in the final when he was down 3-1 in the final set before reeling off five straight games to win the crowd.
He still takes time out to sign autographs (my sister got one when we went to the US Open a few years ago), he supports numerous charities, and he even talked for a while with the grounds crew after the ESPN interview. If he’s had a bad day in the 15+ years that he’s been a pro, he’s never shown it. He seems to be even more appreciative of the game and his fans after his injuries last year, and he’s shown a lot more personality and excitement after wins recently.
Whether you’re a tennis fan or not, whether you root for the stars or the underdogs, it’s almost impossible to root against Roger Federer. In an age of selfishness and disloyalty and looking out for only yourself, Federer is the polar opposite. He doesn’t brag about his accomplishments (you’ll never see him count titles before he wins them), he’s not a social media darling, and he acts like he’s just another player and not the GOAT.
In a sports world full of LeBron’s and Curry’s, Roger Federer is something different. He’s the perfect athlete.
Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)