Players Of The Decade: Roger Federer
Roger Federer had a lot to live up to entering this decade after what he accomplished in the 2000s. The Swiss at one point was World No. 1 for 237 straight weeks, finishing atop tennis’ mountain five times. However, it was clear that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and the rest of the players on the ATP Tour were only improving. So Federer, who began the 2010s aged 28, had to battle opponents as tough as ever, as well as Father Time.
But the Swiss overcame some uncertainty due to injury to prove why he is still one of the best players in the world year-in and year-out. He was not the dominant force that he was in the 2000s — he spent only 46 weeks at World No. 1 this decade — but the Swiss reminded the world that he is still Roger Federer.
Federer captured 42 tour-level titles during the 2010s, which alone would place him among the Top 20 in the Open Era. He lifted five Grand Slam trophies this decade, as well as 12 ATP Masters 1000 titles and two crowns at the Nitto ATP Finals. And later in the decade, when in theory Federer should have slowed down, he began to reel in Nadal in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry.
However, perhaps Federer’s defining moment of the decade was a comeback from injury. After losing in the 2016 Australian Open semi-finals, Federer was drawing a bath for his kids when he hurt his knee in a freak accident, requiring arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Federer competed in just five tournaments for the rest of the season, ending his year after a five-set loss against Milos Raonic in the Wimbledon semi-finals to give himself time to fully recover.
That sent Federer’s ATP Ranking plummeting to No. 17 in January 2017. His previous low during the decade had been No. 8, making it uncharted territory when he arrived in Melbourne for the 2017 Australian Open. There were plenty of questions at the time surrounding Federer’s status. Only one player older than he was at the time (35) had won a Grand Slam title (Ken Rosewall, 37), and nobody his age had ever held World No. 1. But Federer was simply happy to have a chance to still compete.
Federer not only won that event, but he’d triumph at Wimbledon that year and claim his 20th Grand Slam title at the 2018 Australian Open. A month later, in February 2018, by making the Rotterdam semi-finals (he’d later win the tournament), Federer reclaimed World No. 1 for the first time in five years and 106 days. That is the record for longest gap between stints atop tennis’ mountain. It also made the Swiss the oldest World No. 1 since the ATP Rankings were created in 1973, breaking a 33-year-old Andre Agassi’s mark.
"I think reaching No. 1 is the ultimate achievement in our sport,” Federer said. “This one maybe means the most to me [of any achievement] throughout my career, getting to No. 1 and enjoying it right here at 36, almost 37 years old. [It] is an absolute dream come true, I can’t believe it."
Federer’s decade also included a switch in racquets, increasing his stick’s head size from 90 to 97 square inches in 2014, allowing him to maintain his free-swinging style and reduce the number of mis-hits. Federer has continued to develop his one-handed backhand, going after it in big moments. While it was always a solid shot, Federer’s backhand has at times become an even bigger weapon.
That helped Federer improve in his legendary rivalry with Nadal. At the 2014 Australian Open, the Spaniard took a 23-10 lead in their series, but Federer restored pride by winning six of their seven matches since, including a string of four consecutive victories in straight sets. Nadal led Federer by a break in the fifth set of the 2017 Australian Open final, but the Swiss flipped the script on the Spaniard to triumph there, and he also defeated Nadal in the 2019 Wimbledon semi-finals.
Federer also did well against former World No. 1 Andy Murray this decade, going 10-5 against the Scot. He went just 14-21 against the surging Djokovic, but Federer still earned big-match wins against the Serbian, ending his 43-match winning streak in the 2011 Roland Garros semi-finals and defeating him in their two most recent meetings at the Nitto ATP Finals, including this year in round-robin play. That defeat cost Djokovic a chance at year-end No. 1.
At this year’s Wimbledon, just shy of his 38th birthday, Federer had two championship points to defeat Djokovic and claim his ninth trophy at SW19. So even though he fell short, the Swiss showed he is still going strong.
Federer tallied 104 wins against Top 10 opponents this decade, including 23 combined against Djokovic (14) and Nadal (9). The Swiss competed in the Nitto ATP Finals — which he won in 2010 and ‘11 — in every year but 2016 due to his knee injury, and his 42 trophies were more than anyone in the 2010s besides Djokovic (60) and Nadal (48).
David Foster Wallace once wrote an essay titled ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience’, and Federer is still providing plenty of moments that fans won’t soon forget. So although he finishes the decade at 38, 10 years older than he started it, Federer is still among the sport’s best.