What do you give the man who has everything? Or, more to the point, what does the man who has almost everything still want?
In Roger Federer’s case the decision to request a wildcard for this week’s ATP 500 tournament in Rotterdam suggests that his career wishlist includes a return to No.1. Now.
Week No.303 (237 of them consecutively) at the summit for the 36-year-old would also allow him to overtake Andre Agassi – who was 33 years and 131 days in the last week of his reign in August 2003 – as the oldest man to occupy top spot. Whatever the source for Federer’s fountain of youth, it continues to serve him extraordinarily well.
The owner of a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles added a sixth beloved “Norman” through his January triumph at Melbourne Park. Starting against a qualifier, and perhaps meeting Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, Federer needs only to reach the semis in the Dutch port city where he was the champion in 2005 and 2012 to unseat the absent Rafael Nadal and return to summit he first occupied in February 2004.
This is not a scenario many could have envisaged even as recently as 13 months ago, when Federer dipped his lucratively-shod toe back into the competitive waters at the Hopman Cup after a six-month absence – unsure how well he would come back, or, one imagines, for how long.
The answers: remarkably well, and for quite a while yet, it seems. Perhaps even through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. From his past four majors, having famously skipped the 2017 French, Federer has three titles – extending an Indian summer that started in Melbourne and taken in Wimbledon, as well.
Rotterdam tournament director Richard Kracijek was quoted last week as saying he received an email from Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, in the hours after that emotional Australian Open celebration, suggesting that the Swiss was thinking of playing in the Netherlands for the first time in six years. “Roger had a relatively easy tournament and was physically fresh and ready to compete,’’ Krajicek said.
Consider that for a second. Easy. A slam. Easy. Not the traditional description for a two-week test of excellence, no matter how kind the (mostly night-time, first-match-on) scheduling decisions, and the fact the second seed had not lost a set before dropping two against Marin Cilic under the Rod Laver Arena roof on that scorching final Sunday.
Rotterdam’s ticket sales spiked immediately after the announcement. Of course they did. A couple of lonely cynics argued that this was shameless opportunism on Federer’s part, with Rafa not due back until the Mexican Open starts in Acapulco on February 26th. But if it is, then so what?
Nadal failed to defend his runners-up points from the Australian Open, having retired hurt in the fifth set of his quarterfinal against Cilic, his points lead thus trimmed to just 155. So, if you’re Federer, why wait for March when the time could be now? For the past few years, Dubai has been the part-time resident’s post-Australian resumption location, but circumstances change. As do plans. As have Federer’s.
Yet something that endures is the sports world’s love of both historical morsels and statistics. Sport’s Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim pointed out that when Federer made his Rotterdam debut as a 17-year-old back in 1999, he played Guillaume Raoux, who is about to turn 48.
Others have compiled their updated versions of Federer’s slim still-to-do list, including such suggestions as overtaking Jimmy Connors for most career tour-level titles (currently 96 to 109), completing his Masters 1000 set (clay duo Monte Carlo and Rome are missing), adding an Olympic singles gold to his doubles success with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, and joining Pete Sampras (six to his five, equal with Connors) as the most-frequent year-end No.1.
So, apparently, the man who has – almost – everything still does not quite have it all. Close enough, though, and, as the records continue to tumble, he’s getting closer all the time.
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