Why Roger Federer Is Great | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Why Roger Federer Is Great

Posted: Sep 9, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Having some time over Labor Day to watch the U.S. Open tennis championship, I noted one way in which Roger Federer differed from everybody else I saw, including other top-ranked men and women (although I didn’t watch #1 men’s seed Novak Djokovic).

First, for the uninformed, let’s describe Federer’s past and present.  Federer has won a record 17 singles (not doubles) men’s Grand Slam championships (meaning any of four world tournaments — U.S., French, Australian, Wimbledon).

Federer is consistent. He has reached 26 men’s singles Grand Slam finals. He appeared in 18 of 19 finals from the 2005 Wimbledon through the 2010 Australian Open. He reached the semifinals at 23 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, from the 2004 Wimbledon Championships through the 2010 Australian Open. Going into the U.S. Open, Federer has reached a record 37 Grand Slam semifinals and 26 Grand Slam finals.

But Federer is now past his peak, and is no longer ranked #1 among men in the world.  Yet, on Labor Day, Federer defeated the top-ranked American at the U.S. Open, John Isner, to qualify for the quarter finals.  This wasn’t too remarkable, since Federer is the #2 men’s seed, behind Djokovic.  Nonetheless, Isner is the most punishing server in the tournament (he is 6’10”), and has not had his service broken at the U.S. Open for the last two years.

And Federer didn’t do so for the first two sets (you need to win three sets to win a match).  When no one breaks the other’s service, the players go to a tie-breaking series of points.  Federer won both of these tie-breakers in the first two sets, and was thus ahead two-sets-to-none going into the third set.

Let me repeat the Times’s description of what occurred:

Roger Federer saved the break of serve for last, doing what no man had managed to do at the United States Open against John Isner since 2013.

But by then, Federer already had this tricky fourth-round duel under control.

Why is this of such note?  Federer is now 34.  Okay, half my age.  But in professional tennis, playing punishing match after match to get to the finals in a tournament — well, it takes a toll on human beings (Serena Williams, it should be noted, one year younger than Federer, is perhaps even more dominant among women in tennis, and is still ranked #1).

What allows a human being to accomplish this?  Obviously two legs on that stool are (1) physical conditioning, (2) skill.

With that out of the way, let’s get to something else, (3) the psychological endurance to win a match and to persist at the top of the world for more than a decade.

Of course, I imagined that internal dialogue.  But the lack of anger or upset was clear.