You can’t go wrong writing about Roger Federer.
More than a decade ago the then online editor of Tennis.com claimed any story posted on the site about Federer (above from ATPWorldTour.com) got about 10 times as many hits as anyone not named Nadal.
After last week and what Federer achieved by becoming the oldest ATP No. 1 at 36 years and six months, it’s impossible not to recognize the feat and understand the adoration he continues to receive.
Below are the two most significant accomplishments associated with Federer making it back to No. 1 aside from his age.
Longest gap between first reaching No. 1 and last reaching No. 1:
Federer – 14 years & 17 days: Feb. 2, 2004 – Feb. 19, 2018
(Rafael Nadal – nine years & 184 days: Aug. 8, 2008 – Feb. 18, 2018)
Longest gap between times holding No. 1:
Federer – 5 years and 106 days: Nov. 4, 2012 – Feb. 19, 2018
(Andre Agassi – three years and 142 days: Feb. 12, 1996 – July 5, 1999)
Everyone talks about the incredible comeback that Federer had in 2017 – seven titles (including the Australian Open and Wimbledon) and a 52-5 match record. That was remarkable, especially after six months off in 2016 to rehab his left knee, but he did step into a vacuum at the top of the game vacated by erstwhile dominant Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray who declined and were injured and missing in action by the second half of the year.
It’s worth remembering that an in-form Djokovic had beaten Federer in all four Grand Slam encounters they had between 2014 and 2016.
What was just as great an accomplishment as Federer’s record of success in 2017 was reversing his one-sided record against his No. 1 rival Nadal. At the beginning of last year his most dedicated of fans could reasonably have imagined their man winning another Grand Slam title. But who among them really believed that – trailing the head-to-head 23-11 – he was going to totally own Nadal in 2017, winning all four matches and making it five in a row dating back to his win in Basel in October 2016.
Over their rivalry, on three different occasions – 2005-2006, 2008-2009 and 2013-2014 – Nadal had won five matches in a row against Federer, planting himself firmly between the ears of the great Swiss. By contrast, only twice – Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals (Shanghai) in both 2006 and 2007 – had Federer managed two consecutive wins against the mighty Majorcan.
It’s impossible to argue that any player has ever played better tennis at age 36 than Federer – and equally impossible to know if Federer circa 2005 would beat the rejuvenated Federer of 2018. But there’s no question he merits No. 1 after his extraordinary run of results since the beginning of 2017 – a 64-5 match record.
Lost, and rightly so, in all that he did last week is a quirky head-to-head stat (more than 10 matches played) that we will call ‘Futility vs. Fed.’ The numbers grew with his defeats of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Andreas Seppi in Rotterdam.
Futility vs. Fed
(sets won/lost in brackets)
David Ferrer: 0-17 (6-35)
Mikhail Youzhny: 0-17 (6-39)
Jarkko Nieminen: 0-15 (1-29)
Philipp Kohlschreiber: 0-13 (3-31)
Feliciano Lopez: 0-13 (4-30)
*Nieminen’s only 29 sets lost is mainly because he and Federer just played once in a Grand Slam – at the 2005 Australian Open – and the Finn had to retire with an abdominal strain with Federer leading 6-3, 5-2.
It’s worth noting that all these players have had distinguished careers – with their best rankings ranging from no. 3 for Ferrer to no. 16 for Kohlschreiber. So it’s amazing they are a combined 0-75 against Federer.
Two players who avoided – but just barely – being on the above list are Ivo Karlovic (1-13) and Andreas Seppi, who after his loss in the Rotterdam semifinals) now leads this futility sub-category with a 1-14 record against Federer.
PETRA POWER PREVAILS
It’s been a long road back from a fateful day in December 2016, when Petra Kvitova had the fingers on her left (racquet) hand badly cut during a home invasion in Prostejov, Czech Republic.
On Sunday she achieved a significant milestone – returning to the WTA Top 10 at no. 10 after defeating no. 4-ranked Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the Premier 5 tournament in Doha, Qatar. It was her 13th match win in a row which includes her tournament title in St. Petersburg, Russia, two Fed Cup singles wins in Prague and six rounds in Doha – the final four victories coming over no. 3 Elina Svitolina, no. 10 Julia Goerges, No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and Muguruza.
There was a big disappointment for Kvitova at the Australian Open last month when she was upset 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 in the first round by Andrea Petkovic. “Of course sometimes there are some thoughts on that match,” she said last week. “But on the other hand, I’m proud how I took it and how everything just is different right now. So I’m looking positively. I’m trying just to be here and not really think about the past which I couldn’t change anyway.”
Kvitova, who played the final Sunday with kinesio tape on the inside of her upper right leg, has withdrawn from the Premier event in Dubai this week. After playing three weeks in a row, that would seem like a wise decision by the 27-year-old who turns 28 on March 8.
DABROWSKI TOP 10 BREAKTHROUGH
Gabriela Dabrowski reached a career-high WTA doubles ranking of no. 8 following her victory, with partner Jelena Ostapenko, in the final of the Qatar Total Open on Sunday. They defeated Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain and Andreja Kelpac of Slovenia 6-3, 6-3.
The 25-year-old from Ottawa became the second Canadian woman to reach the top 10 in doubles – Jill Hetherington of Peterborough, Ont., made it to no. 6 in 1989.
It was the fourth time Dabrowski had played with the 20-year-old Ostapenko. Last year they teamed up in Dubai (quarter-finals), Rogers Cup (quarter-finals) and Cincinnati (second round).
So far in 2018, Dabrowski has won Sydney with regular partner Xu Yifan of China, the Australian Open mixed doubles with Mate Pavic of Croatia and now Qatar with Ostapenko.
Her record for 2018 is 15-3 and she has earned $218,089 (U.S.) in prize money.
Over the first four months of 2017, Dabrowski played with eight different partners. But since teaming up with Xu in March (a title at the Miami Open) and then more permanently in May, she has seen her ranking rise from no. 39 at the start of 2017 to no. 8.
This week she’s taking some well-deserved time off and is not entered in either of the current WTA events in Dubai or Budapest.
MARINO ROLLS ON IN ANTALYA
Rebecca Marino continued her inspired comeback with another title on Sunday – her third in a row – at the $15,000 International Tennis Federation tournament in Antalya, Turkey.
She has now won 17 consecutive matches but did suffer a minor setback – losing a set for the first time in a semifinal 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Ekaterina Gorgodze of Georgia before beating Gaia Sanesi of Italy 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
It was originally believed Marino would only play three the hard-court tournaments in Antalya. But she is in yet another $15,000 event there this week (on clay) and will start out against Giorgia Marchetti of Italy, ranked no. 556 in the world.
On the subject of no ranking, Marino has completed the three tournaments required for a ranking and will officially be about no. 630 when the Antalya results appear on the WTA computer next Monday. If she wins again this week, earning 12 more ranking points, her total of 48 points will get her up to approximately no. 555.
Potentially that would be after 22 matches. As mentioned in a previous blog – winning just one round at Rogers Cup, a Premier 5 event, gets a player 60 points.
MILOS, DENIS IN DELRAY DEBUT
Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov play their first round matches Tuesday afternoon on ‘Canada Day’ at the Delray Beach Open in Florida.
First it’s Raonic, pictured above with a two-year-old alligator at the Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston, Florida, against no. 104-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan, in a match slated to start not before 12:30 pm. Now ranked no. 32, Raonic defeated the 25-year-old Daniel 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(1) in their only previous match at the 2014 US Open.
Then it will be a first meeting – not before 2:30 pm – for Shapovalov and the no. 78-ranked Karlovic, who has a 5-3 record so far in 2018.
It’s never easy playing a 6-foot-11, serving machine like the beanpole from Croatia but at least Shapovalov has experience against another 6-foot-11 opponent. In the qualifying at the Queen’s Club tournament before Wimbledon last summer, he defeated Reilly Opelka of the U.S. 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6).
BUDDING STAR PETER POLANSKY?
Lady in the elevator just asked if I was an up-and-coming tennis player. I told her I was the next gen.
— Peter Polansky (@PPolansky) February 16, 2018
Peter Polansky turns 30 in four months but the world No. 143 didn’t mind playing along with a woman who recently inquired about his current status on the pro tennis tour.
Note: Polansky received a lucky loser slot in the Delray Beach draw and will play No. 57-ranked Jared Donaldson of the U.S. on Tuesday afternoon.
Feature photo courtesy: ATP World Tour