He was just another kid with a forehand and a haircut. A decent enough prospect from a land known more for its high mountains than its high rankings. But, truth be told, not a single soul in tennis suspected that this long haired lad – so soft spoken in the locker room, so silky smooth on court – would someday challenge the most hallowed record in tennis, Pete Sampras’ mark of 14 Slam singles titles.
Sure, kid Roger Federer did win a big junior tournament. Wimbledon Removals He struggled long and hard to tame his ferocious anger and scored a historic victory over the still-in-his-prime Sampras at Wimbledon in ’01.
Yet boy Fed failed to explode onto the scene. The death of his beloved coach, Peter Carter, and his youthful (“Hey, Roger, don’t you realize you’re Fed?”) lack of belief slowed his emergence. In fact, we once touted Roger as the best player never to reach a Slam final.
But a big win in Hamburg in ’02 and his ’03 Wimbledon triumph opened the door wider than an alpine valley. A born to win wonder was unleashed. Jaws dropped and fans marveled as the aspiring lad shot to the top. Leaving Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick in his dust, he collected one championship after another. Gaining our attention – a crescendo of adulation grew: such a forehand, what a player, a gentleman champion. Seemingly putting a permafreeze on the rankings, he camped out at No. 1 forever (237 weeks) and won nine majors in three years. Whew! So the world bowed at his Nikes – the anointment began. Tiger sauntered by. Fashion editors swooned. Metro Roger, hip in black, was on magazine covers or in commercials, on top of big skyscrapers in Dubai or doing charity work in South African villages. Brutally honest, at times stunningly self-appreciative, the CEO of Federer Inc. was one global celebrity who was more than comfy in the limelight, suffering little of the twitchy discomfort so many other No. 1s displayed. (Think: McEnroe, Lendl, Wilander, Sampras, Hewitt.) His sizzling four-year run on top was a smack down. He not only bagged 12 of his 14 Slams during those heady days (’04-’07), he gave us flowing images of a singular beauty, an expansive athletic ballet like no other. Soon we all but took for granted the sublime Federerian repertoire: explosive groundies, imposing serve, quiet-amidst-the-storm focus, feathery lightness, lightening speed and that intoxicating grace. His modus operandi was disarming: the man made the miraculous seem ordinary.
Sure, there were occasional lapses. So what that he lost to a wedgie-tugging kid named Nadal at the ’05 and ’06 French Opens? Many have fallen on the Parisian dirt. Never mind that he could almost taste the French title in ’07 before the meddlesome Majorcan changed the menu.
But his 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 humiliation by Rafa in the ’08 French final was quite another matter. You don’t bagel Superman. And, worse yet, four weeks later on his home court in the English dusk, Fed saw his beloved Wimby crown slip through his fingers in what was soon dubbed “The Greatest Match Of All Time.” Roger said the result was a disaster, but then righted his ship to win the Olympic doubles and the (“Hey, don’t write me off”) U.S. Open before again falling to his Spanish nemesis in Melbourne. Tears famously flowed.