A tremendous two weeks of tennis in Dubai ended with Roger Federer hitting a special milestone by capturing the 100th title of his career.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium was buzzing before the match even started, with tickets oversold and not an empty seat in the house, all in anticipation of Federer’s historic moment.
He is just the second man, behind Jimmy Connors (who has 109), to have won 100 or more titles.
Here’s a look back at the men’s event in Dubai and the things learned from an eventful week.
FEDERER’S FULL CIRCLE MOMENT
During his press conference, Federer reflected on his journey to 100 titles and went way back to the time before he captured his first trophy in Milan in 2001. In his early days on tour, Federer actually feared he would not fulfil his potential and that he would end up being the guy with “endless talent and no titles”.
“I think title number one, it was a special one for me,” said the 37-year-old Swiss following his 6-4, 6-4 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Dubai on Saturday.
“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 because I lost my first two quite dramatically, 7-6 in the third against my good friend Marc Rosset in Marseille. I cried my eyes out. He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’ll win some more’. I’m like, ‘It’s easy for you to say’.
“When I came to Milan in 2001, I was able to beat Kafelnikov along the way, beat Julien Boutter in the final. I think I had match points in the second set, lost the second, went into the third. I was so relieved I was not going to be that guy who was going to be endless talent with no titles.
“You can imagine today sitting with 100 how much disbelief there is in between what happened then and now.”
Welcome to the “ Triple Digit” tournament victory club @rogerfederer — I’ve been a bit lonely- glad to have the company !!!
— Jimmy Connors (@JimmyConnors) March 2, 2019
Federer also recalled his first visit to the Dubai event in 2002. He lost in the second round to Rainer Schuettler and was accused of tanking by the tournament director, who tried to withhold his prize money. The ATP intervened and defended Federer.
“I played frustrated the last couple of games in the match against Rainer Schuettler because I was young and crazy. I was so fed up with my game. I just started to go for big shots. Tournament director wasn’t happy with what he saw,” said Federer.
“Anyway, he withheld everything. But the tour said, ‘No chance you can do this. Roger tried, so it’s all good’. Then I came back the next year, wanted to prove a point. I ended up going for three in a row, so… That’s what happens sometimes. You have to learn it the hard way.”
At the very same place where he experienced all that back in 2002, Federer ended up lifting his 100th title. It’s funny how things transpire sometimes.
It also shows how anyone can change their attitude if they want to.
On his 1st #DDFTennis visit, Federer was accused of tanking & tournament wanted to withhold his prize money. 17 years later in Dubai, Federer captures his 100th career title.
“I was young & crazy… Sometimes you have to learn it the hard way,” he says. pic.twitter.com/P7jLik4NTP
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) March 2, 2019
NO RETIREMENT PLANS JUST YET
Tournament director Salah Tahlak announced ahead of the trophy ceremony that Federer will be playing in Dubai next year, and the 20-time Grand Slam champion reiterated that commitment during his press conference later.
“The idea was for the people to know that I am coming back next year. That is the plan. I have a deal for next year,” said the Swiss, who owns an apartment in Dubai and has spent a significant amount of time in the Emirates over the past decade or so.
That shows that Federer has every intention to playing tennis next year, but when he was asked about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which take place in the summer, he was non-committal.
“No, still not [thinking about it]. Don’t know how I’m going to qualify, to be honest. And if I do, I don’t know if I’m still playing,” said Federer, who has to fulfil Davis Cup commitments in order to play in Tokyo.
“Still too far away for me. Yeah, I don’t know. I just don’t want my mind to go there. I think if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I think it’s not like my first Olympics where obviously I always wanted to be part of it. So we’ll really see how it’s going to play out.”
IMPRESSIVE TSITSIPAS IS IN A HURRY
At 20 years of age, Tsitsipas keeps ticking off one goal after the other from his bucket list and he’s eager to achieve more in the shortest time possible. At least that’s the impression you get from how he talks about his ambitions.
He pulled off a tough feat in coming from winning an indoor title in Marseille on Sunday, playing his first match in outdoor gusty Dubai weather on Tuesday night, and making it all the way to the final before losing to Federer.
“It kind of affects your brain knowing that everybody is cheering for him and everybody is supporting him. He earned all the crowd. He earned all of that support. I do understand it. Sometimes it can get a bit too much.”
— Sport360° (@Sport360) March 2, 2019
When he was one win away from securing his top-10 debut, the young Greek admitted that he was thinking about that prospect “almost every day” and said he’d love to break that ranking bracket as soon as possible. It’s a rare confession from a player. We always ask players about their ranking goals and they always respond by saying they are only thinking about one match at a time, and say the ranking will come with good results, but not Tsitsipas. He set four distinct goals for himself during his offseason in December – reaching the semi-final of a Grand Slam, breaking the top-10, winning a Masters 100 and qualifying for the ATP Finals – and he has already achieved two of them in the first eight weeks of the year.
He’s already dreaming of more.
“I really want to win my first 500 title. I’ve been trying hard, very long now. I mean, it’s a bit sad. I’m a bit sad that I didn’t manage to do it now,” said Tsitsipas after his loss to Federer.
CORIC IS A REAL TROOPER
Borna Coric fought valiantly en route to the semi-finals, coping with late match starts and winning three consecutive matches in third-set tiebreaks before he ran out of gas against Federer in the last-four.
He didn’t complain once.
It’s just the second time in tournament history that two players from the same country sweep the WTA and ATP titles in Dubai in the same year. Federer’s success on Saturday came a week after his compatriot and Hopman Cup partner Belinda Bencic lifted the women’s trophy in the Emirates. The only other time this has happened was when France’s Fabrice Santoro and Amelie Mauresmo swept the titles in Dubai in 2002.
MONFILS ON A MISSION
Tsitsipas was not the only player on a winning streak in Dubai. Gael Monfils claimed eight victories on the trot, having won the title in Rotterdam prior to his arrival in the Emirates. The Frenchman played confident tennis in difficult windy conditions in Dubai and will re-enter the top-20 for the first time since mid-2017. He had numerous opportunities to defeat Tsitsipas in the semis before losing in a final-set tiebreak but can take many positives from his season so far, having made the semis or better in three of the four tournaments he contested.