When Roger Federer last surrendered the world No.1 ranking in June 2010, many people had doubts as to whether he would regain it. And it came as a great disappointment to Federer’s millions of fans, who saw their star player suspended on a total of 285 weeks at No.1, just one week short of Pete Sampras’ record mark.
With the increasing dominance of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – who had combined to win the last nine Grand Slam titles prior to Wimbledon – Federer was overtaken by his younger rivals in the biggest matches, pipped in five sets at the 2010 and 2011 US Open by Djokovic, and knocked out in four by Nadal at both the 2011 French Open and 2012 Australian Open.
But while others were sceptical about Federer’s ability to rise again, the Swiss believed.
“I understand everyone wants to be the first to have mentioned it or said it first that, okay, this is the decline,” he said.
“But I knew how close I was for the last few years, and some people didn't quite see that maybe out of different reasons. But I knew and I think the belief got me to victory today.”
The victory he refers to is his stunning 2012 Wimbledon triumph, where he exacted revenge on Djokovic in the semifinals before beating Andy Murray in a four-set final. His 17th major title gave him a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon trophy and returned him to No.1 – Sampras’ record had finally been eclipsed.
In one swipe, Federer turned tennis’ newly-established order on its head. But while winning Grand Slam titles and being ranked No.1 is nothing new for the Swiss, for it to happen at this age and in this stage of his life is more significant. Only Andre Agassi, at 32 years and 11 months, was older when he regained the top ranking, while Federer became just the ninth player in the Open Era to win a major crown as a father.
“This year I guess I decided in the bigger matches to take it more to my opponent instead of waiting a bit more for the mistakes,” he explained.
“This is I guess how you want to win Wimbledon, is by going after your shots, believing you can do it, and that's what I was able to do. It's special.”
As a result of his success on the lawns, the focus has inevitably shifted to how he will perform at the upcoming Olympic tennis event, beginning 28 July at the All England Club. Olympic singles gold is the only accolade to elude Federer throughout his illustrious career, which has reaped major titles at all the Grand Slam venues among 75 tournament victories.
His chances have improved significantly following Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the event, with the Spaniard claiming his physical condition was not at the required level to compete at London 2012.
Federer, who won doubles gold with Stanislas Wawrinka at Beijing in 2008, said he could hardly wait for the Olympics to begin.
“A week of vacation is exactly right so that I can get over the euphoria of Wimbledon and start training and give everything so that I’m able to get [to] top fitness again and ready to hopefully win an Olympic medal for Switzerland,” he said.
Should that not materialise, there remain plenty of big prizes for Federer to compete for in the upcoming months. Chief among them is the US Open later in August. The fast hardcourts of Flushing Meadows have always suited the world No.1’s game, evidenced by his five consecutive titles from 2004 to 2008.
Yet the last two years at the event have brought heartache for the Swiss. Federer held a pair of match points in both the 2010 and 2011 semifinals against Djokovic, only for the Serb to escape with five-set victories on both occasions. The 2011 defeat, in which Djokovic saved one match point with a blinding forehand return winner, continues to irk Federer. He hinted at the time the return was the result of luck, and at Wimbledon Federer again spoke of his “unlucky” loss.
He’ll be far more positive arriving in New York this year – Olympic result pending – and believes that good results continue to lie ahead.
“I'm so happy I'm at the age I am right now, because I had such a great run and I know there's still more possible,” he said.
“To enjoy [my success] right now, it's very different than when I was 20 or 25. I'm at a much more stable place in my life. I wouldn't want anything to change. So this is very, very special right now.”