One of the biggest moments in a person’s life is when they are no longer a teenager. It is the beginning of the maturation into adulthood. In sports, that maturation process takes place well before age 36. Just ask Roger Federer, who just turned “20”. Yes, he is no longer a teenager but a young adult when it comes to Grand Slam titles. Grand Slam titles or majors are the four most important annual tennis events. The Australian Open, The French Open, Wimbledon, and The U.S. Open are those events.
Federer has played in 200 major titles and has now won six Australian Open, one French Open, eight Wimbledon, and five U.S. Open titles. If you use all your fingers and toes to count, that is a grand total of 20! He has won an outstanding 10% of the titles he has played in. He has won more Grand Slam titles than any other man in history. He has six more than third place Pete Sampras and four more than second place Rafael Nadal. Federer still has a little work to do if he wants to catch the all-time major winners. He is still three behind Serena Williams and four behind Margaret Court for all-time major wins.
He entered this year’s Australian Open as a number two seed, even though he was the defending champion. Rafael Nadal was the number one seed. It seemed like it was going to be an amazing tournament. The other two big names in tennis, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, were poised to dethrone the champ even though they were both returning from injuries. However, Murray pulled out of the tournament two weeks before it started. Next, Djokovic got beat in straight sets during the fourth round. This was likely due to not being fully healthy. Finally, Nadal had to retire in the final fifth set of his match during the Quarterfinals. This left Marin Cilic, the sixth seed, as the only opponent in Federer’s way in chase of history. Cilic isn’t a slouch now. He has one Grand Slam title under his belt, the 2014 U.S. Open. He also faced Federer in the finals of Wimbledon last year. But just like that tournament, it was Federer hoisting the trophy and giving it a ceremonial kiss. He beat Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (7-5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
The match was all tied up going to the fifth and final set and momentum was clearly on Cilic’s side. Federer faced two break points in the opening game of that match. That’s when the crafty veteran calmed himself and played his style of tennis. He had a beautiful backhand winner to win the game. Cilic would then double-fault two times. That was all Federer would need to take control and go up 3-0. And as they say, the rest is history.
Federer didn’t have an easy start to winning these 20 major titles. He lost in the first round on three of his first four trips to Wimbledon, and three of his first five appearances at the French Open. At Wimbledon in July 2003, when he won his very first grand slam title, he said, “I hope it’s not going to be my last.” Fast forward over 14 years and he had this to say, “All day I was thinking, ‘How would I feel if I won it, how would I feel if I lost it? I’m so close, yet so far.’ I think I was going through the whole match like this. I’ve had these moments in the past, but maybe never as extreme as tonight. Getting to 20 is obviously very, very special, no doubt.”
Usually, the prime of a player’s tennis career is 19-27 years old. How is Federer pulling off these wins at this age? At 36, Federer is now the second-oldest man to win a grand slam title behind Ken Roswell at age 37. Ironically enough it was at the Australian Open that Ken won his title in 1972. It must be something in the water Down Under. Federer was asked how long he thinks he can continue playing at this level. He replied, “No idea. Honest, I don’t know. I have no idea. I’ve won three Slams now in 12 months. I can’t believe it myself. I just got to keep a good schedule, stay hungry, then maybe good things can happen. I don’t think age is an issue, per se. It’s just a number.” Maybe he was listening to the late, great Aaliyah before his match. One thing is for sure, he is a grown man now, no teenager. He went on to say, “I’m just very excited that I have nothing going on in the next couple of weeks. It’s all quiet so I can just take time to celebrate. Number 20 is super special so we’ll try to make the most of it. It’s one of the great moments in my career.”
Congrats on number 20!