Federer Once Worried He’d Never Win A Title
Roger Federer earned yet another accolade in his illustrious career on Saturday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, becoming the second player to lift 100 tour-level titles. But, believe it or not, a teenage Federer once worried whether he would win one ATP Tour crown.
“I'm not kidding if I tell you I hoped I was going to not go down as a player never to win a tournament,” Federer said.
In 2000, when Federer was just 18, he reached the Marseille final, his first championship match on the ATP Tour. The Swiss was just two points from victory in a third-set tie-break against compatriot Marc Rosset, but he hit an inside-out forehand into the net at 5-6 to fall short. Federer smiled when he embraced Rosset, but he was devastated.
“I cried my eyes out. [Marc] told me, ‘Don't worry about it, you'll win some more’,” Federer recalled. “I'm like, ‘It's easy for you to say’.”
Federer then lost his second ATP Tour final later that year in his hometown of Basel — where he has since lifted the trophy a personal-best nine times (he’s also won nine times in Halle) — losing in five sets against Thomas Johansson. He finally made his breakthrough in Milan 18 years ago at the age of 19, and the rest is history.
“It makes me look back at how it all started and how badly I wanted my first title back in Milan… I was hoping that one day I was going to win a title,” Federer said. “I was so relieved I was not going to be that guy who was going to [have] endless talent with no titles. You can imagine today sitting with 100 how much disbelief there is in between what happened then and now.”
Since 2001, Federer has captured at least one tour-level trophy in 18 of 19 seasons. From 2004-2006, he won at least 11 titles each year.
The next logical achievement for Federer would be potentially matching and then eclipsing Connors’ Open Era record of 109 men’s singles titles. But the Swiss is not putting too much thought into that. Now is the time to reflect on his journey to this accomplishment and how he’s gone from worrying about winning one title to lifting No. 100.
“I think I needed to get really match tough to be able to be at 100 per cent every single day. That was not easy for me. Checking my emotions, that was not easy,” Federer said. “I remember in the beginning of my career, by the time the quarters came around, I was quite exhausted already because I was so happy winning points, disappointed losing points, I would get to the quarters and be tired.
“I knew I had to figure out my own attitude on the court to sustain five matches in five days or six matches in six days. Back in the day, the [ATP] Masters 1000s, what we had to do with the best-of-five set final. That was part of it… a lot of things went right. I'm sure I took a lot of good and bad decisions along the way. I couldn't have done it without a team. My team has been phenomenal throughout.”
It’s easy to forget that only three years ago, in 2016, Federer played just seven tournaments due to a left knee injury he suffered in a freak accident helping his daughters prepare a bath. The Swiss underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on 3 February 2016, and he did not play after Wimbledon that season to further recover, falling as low as No. 17 in the ATP Rankings in January 2017.
At 35 years old, many players may have considered retiring. But the thought never seriously crossed Federer’s mind.
“Never to the extent where I'm like really, really contemplating, ‘Is it enough?’ I think definitely the surgery was for me sort of a major reality check in the sense that maybe I will come back, I knew that, but maybe never quite the same,” Federer said. “I'm happy I can look back now and play with absolutely no pain.”
Federer went on a magical run to win the 2017 Australian Open, and claim his 20th Grand Slam title last year in Melbourne. The father of four has lifted 12 trophies since his surgery. And no, he hasn’t thought about where his Dubai trophy will go.
“I'm not that crazy yet. I don't know. It takes a lot of space in the trophy cabinet. That's the problem here. It's a special one. At least it will stand out,” Federer said. “I don't have special trophies for No. 1, 25, 50, so forth. I think it's just going to have a normal place. In my heart, of course, I know I won my 100th here in Dubai.”
Now, the chase for title No. 101 begins. On Sunday morning, Federer will pack up and begin his journey to California for the BNP Paribas Open, an ATP Masters 1000 event he has triumphed at five times. Saturday was special for Federer, but he’s not done yet.