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Pursuit Of Excellence

DEUCE

Federer© Getty ImagesIn addition to winning his 17th Grand Slam title and record-tying 21st Masters 1000 title, Roger Federer became the first player to reach 300 weeks at World No. 1.

Having qualified for the 11th year in succession, Roger Federer could win the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the seventh time. As Neil Harman of The Times writes, it is an extraordinary period of brilliance. 

How do you find something new to say about the man who has had more words written about him than any other tennis player in the history of the sport? All the old ones come spilling back: grace, dignity, balance, effortlessness, simplicity, bravery, cool, chic, swagger. And talent. A talent from the gods.

It is a measure of all of those attributes that Roger Federer has returned to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals as the reigning Wimbledon champion, and as the only man in history to have spent more than 300 weeks as the World No. 1 (this season, he moved past Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at the top of the South African Airways ATP Rankings).

“He does not want to fade away”

In addition to his 17 Grand Slam titles, he has won this end-of-year tournament six times, in Houston, Shanghai and twice in succession here on the side of the Thames. It is astonishing to relate that for those title successes, he has defeated six different players in the finals, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, James Blake, David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. This is the 11th consecutive time that he has qualified to an event restricted to the best eight players in the world, and just consider that for an unbroken period of brilliance. Has the game stalled, have the improvements not been as marked as we imagined? Or is it that the 31-year-old Swiss has, time and again, been able to rise above the rest for what has been an extraordinary period of success in the sport?

Having been allowed the luxury of writing the Wimbledon annual for the past nine years, the images of Federer on the front covers (well, most of the front covers) remain remarkably unchanged. In the early days, there was a little more hair that fell in a ponytail outside a bandana, but what hasn’t changed over the years is a champion’s serenity, a sureness of purpose, an incredible belief in both himself and the game that took him to the top and, for the most part, which has protected him from all-comers. There have been bruises, of course. No one stays around for as long as Federer has without taking the occasional knock, from his rivals on the court or from some of the scribes off it who have tended to regard every defeat as an affront to decency, and to wonder whether it’s time for his retirement.

In the 12 months since winning last November’s title at The O2, he has won the Wimbledon Championships for the seventh time, won on blue clay in Madrid, on the purple cement of Indian Wells, outdoors in Dubai and Cincinnati, indoors in Rotterdam. Nothing much fazes him.

FedererPerhaps the most marked and telling moment came at Wimbledon when, in the immediate aftermath of his victory over Andy Murray, a win which gave him the No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking again, he shared the success with his three-year-old twin daughters, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva. He wanted his daughters to see him in his pomp.

“It was the first time the kids have seen me win a Grand Slam title,” he said. “As a parent you are always very protective but they have watched maybe 15 minutes of one of my matches and it was in Basel last year that Mirka surprised me by bringing the girls out for the trophy ceremony and I turned around and there they were. This was completely different because it was Wimbledon and that is where so many of my great victories happened and I felt very emotional seeing the family and sharing such an intimate moment in all the craziness that was happening. It was unique and a legacy for them, because usually they barely remember today what happened yesterday. I hope that one day they look back and say maybe this was a good thing we did. Who knows?”

Sharing these moments with his daughters is what keeps Federer going. He does not want to fade away, to start to struggle to recall what made him great in the first place. When Federer does not feel he is able to compete properly, then he will call it a day but, as he has mentioned at various times this year, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 remain a target. I have had the privilege of reporting on hundreds of his matches. I hope to do hundreds more. 

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