It seems like a lifetime ago now when Roger Federer was crestfallen, face buried into the grass of Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Then 34, the Swiss was sprawled out after tripping and falling trying to recover a Milos Raonic ball. It was a horrible moment, not just for the man himself, but for spectators present at the scene and those watching far and wide.
Hands to mouths, in shock, everyone worrying for Roger.
He eventually got up and the blow of a crushing five-set semi-final defeat would have hurt a lot more, for whatever pain he was experiencing on his knees, the left of which he underwent surgery on to repair a torn meniscus soon after his loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open that year (2016).
But at SW19, the place which almost belongs to Federer, this moment wasn’t part of the script – it couldn’t end like this. He looked every bit of his veteran age (in tennis terms) and the ovation he received when he walked off court felt like one of goodbye, not necessarily from him, but that was the undercurrent vibe. So, was that it? It seemed so.
He’s done. He’ll never win Wimbledon again or any other slam. He’s lost half a step or two. He just can’t match the younger guys anymore. He’s never going to beat Djokovic or Andy Murray now. The new generation are coming through and fast.
Those doubters, it has to be said, made their points well. On July 26 2016, Federer called time on his season and the road back looked long. In fact, you couldn’t see the end of it. What a way to go. The greatest player of all time – for all his achievements – at an end.
For Federer fans, it was hard to come to terms with all that. It went in a blink of an eye. For some, it felt like grieving.
It was also a good time to fully appreciate and acknowledge what he had been able to do in the previous couple of years under the tutelage of boyhood idol Stefan Edberg. Remembering the recent good days before taking in an incredible career as a whole.
There were three major final appearances (Wimbledon 2014 and 2015) and the US Open (2015). He lost to Djokovic in all three but played an attacking brand of tennis so mesmerising that it led many to believe it was his best.
Still, he hadn’t added to his major haul and Djokovic, on 12, was quickly catching up to his 17 while Rafael Nadal was just three back on 14. His standing in the game as the most decorated was at huge risk.
Fast-forward to now and his fans are rejoicing following back-to-back Australian Open titles, a record-breaking eighth Wimbledon and a fairytale return to World No1. The turnaround has been monstrous. With 20 Grand Slams to his name, those dark days before have made this success more striking and mean so much. The best-ever, there can be no doubt now in tennis terms, but what about the greatest sports star of all time?
Quite simply, yes, in the sense his case is stronger than most.
Federer has everything. The talent, trophy wins and records are a given but when you add in his longevity, becoming the oldest World No1 14 years after he had first got there, his dedicated fan following, the way he conducts himself and serves as an ambassador for his sport… You really couldn’t ask for more.
Yes, followers from other sports or indeed those of Nadal may feel the fanfare for Roger is too extreme, and at points in his career luck has been on his side, but that would be disrespecting a modern-day icon who makes up the most ideal athlete if you had to build one from scratch.
The argument is rich, how do you go about choosing between Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan or a Lionel Messi? Almost impossible but Federer has redefined the laws of greatness.
So, how long can he keep on playing? The man is a master of his own schedule, will make the right call and while those around him are cracking up, withdrawing from tournaments and looking unlikely to get back to their best, there’s reason for him to stick around. If, as suspected, he decides to skip the clay-court season again, a stab at defending his Wimbledon title is on the cards.
Add in the fact it must be pretty good being Roger Federer. With the support he gets the world-over, his love of travelling and close-knit team, playing tennis is still the easy bit.
Ultimately, Federer’s legacy is defined more by his majors and playing style, but this feat, a milestone which deep down he would have doubted he’d reach again, almost tops the lot and is a life lesson to everyone, cliche as it is, that age is no barrier and to never, ever give up.
Roger Federer has become the oldest world No. 1 in history after defeating Robin Haase to reach the semi-finals of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam on Friday night.
The 36-year-old, who had to make it to the last four in the Netherlands to guarantee he would have enough points to usurp current top dog Rafael Nadal, will officially return to top spot for the first time since October 2012 (the longest gap in the record books) when new ATP World Tour rankings are released on Monday.
Federer has now replaced Andre Agassi as the eldest statesman to accomplish the feat, with the American legend having held the record since 2003 when he was number one aged 33 years and 131 days.
Remarkably, the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s fairytale climb back to the summit of world tennis comes 14 years and 17 days to the month since he first got there.
The Swiss, of course, is no stranger to leading the men’s game having previously held the No. 1 berth for a record 302 weeks throughout his career, with 237 of those being consecutive in a staggering run which started in February 2004 and lasted until August 2008.
Federer, a twice winner in Rotterdam, was granted a wildcard into the event last week by former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek after he made a last-minute decision to chase the milestone following his exertions in Melbourne.
Indeed, the fact injury-stricken Nadal is not due to play until Acapulco at the end of the month, gave the legendary star a small window of opportunity to have a crack at the milestone and he was clearly right to chance his arm.
The Swiss was made to work hard for it on Friday though and lost the first set 6-4, before rolling over the 30-year-old 6-1 in just 19 minutes to level it up. He then saw off the journeyman Dutchman, who appeared to be suffering from sickness, 6-1 in the decider.
Federer, who is now just two wins away from his 97th career title, was visibly emotional after shaking hands at the net with his opponent.
Roger Federer delivered a crushing 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Ruben Bemelmans in just 47 minutes on Wednesday as the Swiss star moved just two wins away from becoming the sport’s oldest world number one.
The 36-year-old top seed, a two-time champion at the Dutch indoor event, needs to reach the semi-finals to take back the number one spot from Rafael Nadal.
With two more victories, Federer would become the oldest man by three years to hold the top position in the rankings.
“It’s very surprising how good things went today,” Federer said. “The key is to start well, put him under pressure.
“I wanted to make him think he had to do something special to beat me. I did well there, I felt good, I’m healthy and I’m confident. It was a great first round for me.”
Federer gave no quarter as he raced to a 5-0 lead, with the out-matched Bemelmans winning his first game after 16 minutes.
The outcome was never in doubt as Federer dominated with six aces and four service breaks, winning an impressive 21 of 23 first-serve points in the demolition.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion on Thursday takes on German Philipp Kohlschreiber, against whom he stands 12-0 in career meetings.
“You always prefer to play the guy whose game you know,” Federer said.
“You know his patterns, it’s nice to play someone like that, you know what to expect.
“My start will be crucial, I need to stay focused all the way. Any lapses can get you into trouble.”
Third seed Alexander Zverev fell in an upset to qualifying lucky loser Andreas Seppi of Italy, 6-4, 6-3 in the second round to open up Federer’s half of the draw.
Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin, the duo who faced off in last year’s season-ending ATP Finals, both advanced with straight-sets wins.
Second seed Dimitrov, who beat Belgian fourth seed Goffin in the London final last November, had to fight back in the second set to defeat Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) in their first-round encounter.
Goffin made light work of veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, cruising through 6-1, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals.
— ABN AMRO WTT (@abnamrowtt) February 14, 2018