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Federer's Road To Grand Slam Greatness

Road To Grand Slam Greatness

Roger Federer© Getty ImagesRoger Federer's road to Grand Slam greatness began in 2003 at Wimbledon.

Roger Federer established himself as one above the rest Sunday, fittingly claiming his record 15th Grand Slam title at the All England Club – the site of his first major triumph six years ago at the age of 21.

The Swiss maestro, who completed the career Grand Slam last month with victory over Robin Soderling in the Roland Garros final, accomplished the historic feat in 25 tournament appearances. In comparison, previous record holder Pete Sampras won his first Grand Slam in 1990 and his 14th in 2002 – a span of 13 years and 45 majors – and finished his career without the elusive clay-court title.

Federer’s road to 15 Grand Slam titles is made even more impressive when taking into account that many of his recent triumphs and heartaches have come against great rival Rafael Nadal. Since their first Grand Slam meeting in the 2005 Roland Garros semi-finals, the two have faced off in seven championship finals with Nadal denying the Swiss on five occasions.

Below, we look back on Federer’s historic achievement, beginning with his first Grand Slam title at 2003 Wimbledon:

2003 Wimbledon - After failing to reach the semi-final stage in his first 16 Grand Slam appearances (Pete Sampras won the 1990 US Open in his eighth appearance at a major), Federer's immense talent had gone largely unrewarded until his arrival at the All England Club in 2003. He had been touted a potential champion a year earlier but suffered a first-round loss to Mario Ancic. Expectations had been high since 2001, when he stunned seven-time champion Pete Sampras to reach the quarter-finals. But in 2003 Federer became a Grand Slam winner after an exquisite performance at Wimbledon, where he lost just one set and did not drop serve in his last two victories over Andy Roddick and Mark Philippoussis.

2004 Australian Open – After winning the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston at the end of 2003, Federer entered the 2004 ATP World Tour season in fine form. The Swiss did not disappoint and dropped just two sets in racing to his second career Grand Slam final at the Australian Open, an event where he had never progressed past the fourth round in four previous visits. After defeating rivals Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Juan Carlos Ferrero to reach the title match, Federer dismissed the challenge of Marat Safin in straight sets in the final and, in doing so, rose to No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the first time.

2004 Wimbledon – Playing in his first Grand Slam as the top seed, Federer returned as defending champion to SW19 and was largely untroubled on his way to a second straight Grand Slam final, dropping just one set to Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round. The Swiss, who had warmed up for the grass-court Slam with victory at Halle, faced World No. 2 and first-time finalist Andy Roddick in the final. Federer did not have it all his own way, forced to contend with the inclement British weather and good play from Roddick. Federer rallied from a set and a break down in the third set before sealing victory 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4.

2004 US Open – Rebounding from the disappointment of a first-round loss in Cincinnati to Dominik Hrbaty and a second-round loss to World No. 79 Tomas Berdych at the Athens Olympics, Federer battled past World No. 7 Andre Agassi in five sets in the US Open quarter-finals before coasting through his final two matches against Tim Henman (6-3, 6-4, 6-4) and Lleyton Hewitt (6-0, 7-6, 6-0) to win his first title at Flushing Meadows. Federer became the first player since Mats Wilander in ‘88 to win three Grand Slam titles in a season and the first player in the Open Era to win his first four Grand Slam finals. His 11 titles in 2004 were the most by a year-end No. 1 since Ivan Lendl won 11 in ‘85 and his .925 match winning percentage was highest since Lendl compiled the same mark in ‘86.

2005 Wimbledon – Federer’s next Grand Slam final appearance did not occur until Wimbledon in 2005. Having lost a desperately close five-setter to Marat Safin in the Australian Open semi-finals and been denied a place in the Roland Garros final by Rafael Nadal, the Swiss was out to prove a point on the grass at the All England Lawn Tennis Club - where he was two-time defending champion. For the loss of just one set he enjoyed a smooth passage through to the final, where he once again faced Andy Roddick in a repeat of the 2004 final. This time it was a much more straight-forward affair for Federer, who broke the renowned Roddick serve four times to win his third successive Wimbledon crown. Federer ended Wimbledon with a 36-0 record on grass since 2003 and on an all-court winning streak that would eventually reach 35 matches.

2005 US Open – In the final Federer faced American legend Andre Agassi, playing in what was to be not only his last Grand Slam final, but his last final on the ATP World Tour. Laying sentiment aside, Federer held his nerve to recover from dropping the second set 2-6 by edging the third set tie-break to set himself up for a comprehensive 6-1 fourth and final set. Federer became the first player since Don Budge in 1937-38 to complete the Wimbledon-US Open doubles in back-to-back years. He became the first player since Rod Laver in 1968-69 to win five majors in back-to-back years. It was Federer's 23rd consecutive win in a final, an astounding streak that ultimately was halted at 24 by David Nalbandian in a fifth-set tie-break in the Tennis Masters Cup.

2006 Australian Open – Unstoppable Federer became the first player since Pete Sampras in 1993-94 to win three straight Slam titles when he captured his second Australian Open crown. After smooth passage through the first three rounds, Federer was pushed the distance by Tommy Haas in the fourth round before edging past Nikolay Davydenko in the quarter-finals. A four-set victory over Nicolas Kiefer secured his place in the championship match, where he faced little-known Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot had won over a legion of fans on his inspired run to the final, and looked poised to upset Federer as he took the first set 7-5. However, the Swiss’ experience prevailed as he edged the second set by the same score-line before racing through final two sets 6-0, 6-2.

2006 Wimbledon – Federer joined Sampras (7) and Borg (5) as the only players to win four or more Wimbledon titles in the Open Era. He went undefeated on grass (12-0) for the fourth straight year and established a new record grass court winning streak (48 matches). The Swiss came into Wimbledon in red-hot form. Since his triumph at the Australian Open, he had reached the final at all seven events played – collecting titles on three occasions. The man responsible for each loss was Rafael Nadal – a Spaniard setting the clay-court season alight with victories over Federer at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Monte-Carlo and Rome and ultimately Roland Garros. Federer was able to put the disappointment of missed opportunities behind him though as he found his feet on the grass with victory once more at Halle, followed up by a comprehensive victory at Wimbledon – with just the one set dropped throughout - against Nadal in the final.

2006 US Open – By conquering New York for a third straight year, Federer became the first player to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a year since Rod Laver in ‘69. He also joined Laver as only player to win at least three Grand Slam titles in two different seasons (Laver won Grand Slam in 1962, ‘69). As was becoming the norm in Grand Slam events, Federer coasted through the early rounds at Flushing Meadows and was untroubled until he met home favourite and World No. 7 James Blake in the quarter-finals – even then only surrendering one set to the American. For the third time, Federer squared up to rival Andy Roddick in a Grand Slam final and, for the third time, he had the answer to Roddick’s barrage of attack. From 2004-06, Federer compiled a match record of 247-15 (.943), with Nadal the only player to beat him more than once during that stretch.

2007 Australian Open – Just when fans thought Federer couldn't get any better, for the first time he won a Grand Slam title without dropping a set as he romped to his third Australian Open trophy. He became the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1980 (Roland Garros) to win a Slam title without conceding a set, and at the time was just the fourth player in the Open Era to do so. Federer came into the tournament having won his past five tournaments and he ultimately ran up a career-best 41-match winning streak. At Melbourne Park the Swiss handled Novak Djokovic, Tommy Robredo, Andy Roddick and surprise finalist Fernando Gonzalez.

2007 Wimbledon – At the All England Club, Federer dropped only one set en route to title match before defeating Nadal in five sets to capture his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title and join Bjorn Borg as only players to win at least five straight crowns in Open Era. He  compiled an undefeated grass court record (6-0) for the fifth straight year and extended his record grass court winning streak to 54 matches. The riveting final against Nadal was widely celebrated by fans, yet it was soundly eclipsed one year later by the pair's historic five-set epic final showdown.

2007 US Open – Federer won his 50th ATP World Tour title in Cincinnati and then at Flushing Meadows avenged his loss to young challenger Novak Djokovic in the Canada final to win his fourth US Open title. For the third straight year Federer completed the Wimbledon-US Open double and he became the first player in history to reach all four Grand Slam finals in back-to-back years. The 2007 US Open also marked Federer's all-time record 10th consecutive appearance in a Grand Slam final. For the third time in his career, Federer won three Grand Slam titles in one season, which provided little notice of the challenges Federer would face in the following season.

2008 US Open - The tennis world had begun to question whether Federer's best days were behind him when he arrived at Flushing Meadows for the 2008 US Open. He was coming off back-to-back losses to Nadal in the Roland Garros and Wimbledon finals, both of which cut deep. In Paris, Federer was thrashed 1-6, 3-6, 0-6 and at Wimbledon Nadal snapped Federer’s run of five consecutive titles. Federer, who in August had relinquished his No. 1 ranking after 237 weeks to Nadal, was also in danger of failing to win a Grand Slam title in a season for the first time in six years. But the Swiss produced arguably his best tennis of the year to beat young challengers Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and Andy Murray in the final to win his fifth straight US Open. Federer joined Bill Tilden as the only man to win five straight US championships.  

2009 Roland Garros - When Federer suffered his crushing loss to Rafael Nadal 12 months prior in the 2008 Roland Garros final – when he scavenged just four games – there was widespread doubts that the player who many call the greatest of all time would never complete the elusive career Grand Slam. But one year on Federer entered Roland Garros buoyed by a win one week earlier over Nadal on clay in the Madrid final. Better news was to follow when Nadal suffered a shock loss to Robin Soderling in the fourth round. Yet Federer still had to grind out his toughest path to any of his 14 Grand Slam titles. In the fourth round he was within five points of a straight-sets loss to Tommy Haas and again had to rally from behind to beat Juan Martin del Potro in five sets in the semi-finals. In all Federer dropped six sets en route to the final before playing one of his best matches on clay to eclipse Robin Soderling in straight sets. The doubters had been silenced. “This is the most satisfying win of my life, along with my first Wimbledon,” Federer said. “I have tried for so many years, so there was much pressure involved... I always believed in it but it becomes harder with time.”

2009 WimbledonFederer came into The Championships chasing a hat trick of accomplishments: by reclaiming his title at The All England Club, he would overtake Rafael Nadal at No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings and also become the all-time Grand Slam title leader, surpassing Pete Sampras’ mark of 14 majors won. Already buoyed by the triumph at Roland Garros, Federer’s date with destiny seemed inevitable following Nadal’s withdrawal prior to the tournament with a knee injury. Expectation was high that Wimbledon would see Federer play Andy Murray for the title, and Federer came through on his end – cruising through to his seventh straight Wimbledon final with the loss of just one set – but a resurgent Andy Roddick prevented the dream final, crushing the hopes of a nation with an upset win over Murray in the semi-finals. Federer had comfortably beaten Roddick in two previous Wimbledon finals, but the American showed his finest form against the Swiss on Championship Sunday – resulting in the longest match in Wimbledon history in number of games played. With Roddick proving impenetrable on serve, the two dueled for more than four hours before Federer finally broke the American for the first and only time on championship point, celebrating the 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 3-6, 16-14 victory with Sampras watching from the Royal Box.  Federer said afterwards: "I'm happy I broke the record here in some ways because this is always the tournament that's meant the most to me because of what we spoke about with my heroes and idols being so successful here. It definitely feels like it's come full circle for me, starting it here and ending it here."

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