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Why does Roger Federer mean so much to us, members of the global tennis community? Is it because of his supreme achievements? Is it because his rather perfect grace? Has our collective admiration and respect for the man and his achievements led to the meaning of such unlocked, if they are not meaning in and of itself. We believe that such meaning of Roger Federer is to know the story of Roger Federer - his ups, his downs, and what the significance of each significant event in his career means to the tennis world (including himself).

To find meaning in something, one must know its contents… Hence, here goes the meaningful span of Federer’s life depicted through several of his milestones...

The prelude to his first milestone, and greatness…

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A wise man once said that the strongest oak tree there ever was started as a seed that stood its ground. As we reflect on Roger Federer’s legacy and his extraordinary contributions to the sport of tennis, we must look at the ‘seed moments’ of Roger Federer. For as counterintuitive as it may be – given the seeming ease with which he attained his list of conquests - the emperor did not win his empire in one day. He started off as a foot soldier, not that much different from us common folks, albeit a very talented one. From 20 September 1999, heavy expectations started to be laid on a certain young tennis one – Roger Federer. The keeping in mind of precise dates are important, because we are talking about milestones in this article. We are can all easily discern a brewing storm when the dark clouds gather in mass over the horizon, what is interesting would be the discernment or recording of the particular point in time in which the storm breaks out, or the categorization of the prelude to the storm into different stages and the identification of the precise start point for each stage. 20 September 1999 was the date in which Federer finally broke into the ATP top 100, at the tender age of 18. Although a milestone in its own right, for the purposes of this article this breakthrough will be seen simply as a prelude to a milestone. From then on followed a torrent of notable wins for the young Swede which in hindsight would represent the start of a legendary career, and not merely a spell of greatness. In the Marseille Open of 1999, the young Federer scored a significant win over 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya. Victory followed victory, each surpassing the previous one, and Federer reached his first ATP final at the Marseille Open in 2000, losing to his fellow countryman Marc Rosset in the final. In 2001, Federer won the 2001 Hopman Cup for Switzerland, along with Martin Hingis.

First ATP title (2001)

What a relief, I’m really happy to have won my first title here in Milan. As a kid you always dream of winning your first title - Roger Federer

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The event which represented the high-water mark amongst such string of early wins, however, was Federer’s first ATP championship at the 2001 Milan Open, in which he defeated Julien Boutter of France in the finals 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. Easier it got for Federer indeed. From the moment of this rite of passage, Roger Federer is no longer the youngster snatching impossible victories from the big men on the court, he wins ATP (not to mention grand slam) titles in spite of his youth or age. As seemingly insignificant and unknown as this event may be, this truly deserves to be the most important milestone of Federer’s in my book, in the same way that birthdays are of utmost importance in our lives since they well… lead to and mark the start. Think the Big Bang being the most significant event in history if history can be stretched so far.

Federer’s Wimbledon win over Sampras (2001)

Defeated and dethroned, a somber Pete Sampras lingered at his changeover chair, engulfed by cheers that weren’t for him - Sports Illustrated

It has become rather trendy in the mens’ professional tennis game (at least in the recent years) for a future champion to announce his arrival on the tennis scene with an upset over one of the reigning dominants. Think Nadal’s defeat of Roger Federer at the Miami Open of 2004 (at the age of 17 and a year before his first grand slam victory) and Andy Murray’s win over Federer at the Cincinnati Open of 2006 (at the age of 19 and 6 years before his first grand slam win). Federer’s victory over Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon championships is not too different, the only difference being that this match was the one that marked the emergence of the GOAT, and not merely one amongst a number of greats.

Federer’s first Wimbledon title (2003)

I jh am convinced he will win many more Wimbledons and US Opens and other grand slams. The future has come today - Boris Becker

Photo credit: Sportskeeda

The changing of the place the king’s seat did not come in Wimbledon 2001, during the Federer-Sampras fourth round clash. Federer was trounced the next round by Tim Henman, and lost the next Wimbledon ingloriously in the first round to Mario Ancic. Not-too-irrational tennis analysts/fan who turned prophets in the wake of that famous Sampras defeat, and who cannot wait for their prophecies to hold true, had to wait two more agonizing years. That moment finally came on 6 July 2003 when his foe on the other side of the court netted a backhand return on championship point. ‘This marks the start of a dynasty (not the exact words),’ commented a certain commentator the name of which I cannot recall or retrieve. How uncannily prophetic those words were.

Federer’s first Wimbledon loss (2008)

I tried everything. But Rafa's a deserving champion, he's the worst opponent on the best court. It's a pity I couldn't win it, but I'll be back next year - Roger Federer

Photo credit: Sportige

Bjorn Borg infamously commented - in the wake of Federer’s defeat in the 2008 Wimbledon final – that Roger Federer would retire from professional tennis and Nadal would henceforth dominate the mens’ game. Such comment, although a rather extreme one, reflected the unsettling and unsure sentiment in the tennis world (and in the minds of the professional tennis players too). Such a victory seemed like one much more transparent as a ‘change of kings’ than Federer’s victory over Sampras in 2001. Whereas the 2001 fourth round clash at the Wimbledon was the first ever encounter between Federer and Sampras, the 2008 Wimbledon final was the 18th encounter between Federer and Nadal, with the numbers pointing to a trend which indicate that Nadal is gaining increasingly dominant over Federer. Federer’s hitherto match record against Nadal had been massively unfavourable, with a 11-6 statistic in Nadal’s favour. The only thing of console for Federer during such desolation is him beating Nadal in Wimbledon in all their previous encounters there so far. Such results are supposedly expected, Wimbledon is Federer’s turf, his rule over it has been sacrosanct since 2003. However, harking back to the trend indicating Federer’s increasing vulnerability vis-à-vis Nadal, this rule over Wimbledon too became increasingly tenuous. The previous year in 2007, Nadal forced Federer to defend his title in 5 sets (no one ever has managed to challenge the king to 5 sets on grass!) As such, Federer’s ‘dethronement’ in 2008 no doubt raised the dam on a flood of questions and doubts. Will Federer win another grand slam? Will Nadal clinching all the grand slam titles from now on, and Federer remain with 12 titles to retire with? Will Federer continue on his quest to attain the label of the greatest player of all time, which was supposedly so obvious up till now? Nadal’s victory over Federer in the Australian Open 2009 Finals seemed to give further strength to such doubts – if not a seeming consolidation of them. This event is a milestone not because of a pathbreaking literal victory on Federer’s part, but because the ability to bounce back and win 7 more grand slams in spite of such a grave moment of doubt in his career, is a pathbreaking victory as unliteral as it may be.

Federer’s marriage to Mirka (2009)

I think the secret is his family life. I think his wife and kids, and the whole family background is his support base - Boris Becker

Photo credit: The Tennis Freaks

Federer tied the knot with Mirka on the 11th of April 2009. Such event is a milestone on the merit of it being a consolidation of a performance-enhancing relationship that has existed long before and continue to exist long after the event. The importance of family support to a professional tennis players’ (or any competitive figure, really) can never be underestimated. Just think of Djokovic’s massive drop in performance during the 2016 Wimbledon season, which was purported to be a function of a sudden deterioration in his relationship with his wife during that same period. Love is a powerful thing, and the stability of the biggest and most earnest source of love for a man can bring dividends not only on his psychic well-being, but also his performance on the field when such well-being gets translated into more sound performance. It won’t be ludicrous to say that his grand slams are won, not only on the courts, but also on the benches.

Federer’s Rolland Garros victory (2009)

I can now go the rest of my career without worrying that I would never win the French Open - Roger Federer

Photo credit: Sportskeeda

Federer’s 2009 Rolland Garros victory marks Roger Federer’s 14th grand slam victory, and ties him up with Pete Sampras to become the two people with the greatest number of grand slam singles’ titles won in the mens’ game, at that time. Roger Federer’s win also made him the sixth player ever to win at least one of each of the four grand slams – the last person being fellow tennis legend Andre Agassi. In spite of the statistics, and the very moving victory ceremony (the 2009 Rolland Garros mens’ singles championship victory ceremony was arguably the most moving ever to be caught on camera), this milestone is a milestone merely because of the statistics mark a point in time in which Federer achieved numerical superiority of some sorts. We all knew Federer had it in him to take the French Open title eventually (at that time he has played in every Rolland Garros final since 2006), or surpass Sampras in the number of grand slams won eventually.

Federer’s 15th Grand Slam title (2009)

It was a crazy match and my head is still spinning - Roger Federer

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Hoorah! Federer wins his 15th Wimbledon grand slam title and becomes the man with the most number of grand slam titles won! Again although such ground-breaking event (statistically wise) makes for great surges of ecstatic sentiment, the milestone is merely numerical in nature and for reasons touched on above it should not be given further attention in this blog article.

Federer’s 18th grand slam title at the 2017 Australian Open

Roger Federer has shown everyone that impossible is nothing - Vijay Amritraj

Photo credit: Metro

Federer hits a big serve to the Nadal forehand before stepping in for a sharp forehand to Nadal’s backhand side which strikes right on the line. Reactions to Nadal’s inability to return the shot were mixed, doubts on whether the shot was good were let out as hawk-eye was consulted. Seconds later, the Rod Laver arena burst out in a series of roars as Federer jumped up into the air with immense elation. Federer just won another championship! What makes this so special, since he has already won so many? It’s his age, stupid. It’s his opponent too, if I may be allowed to add. At 35 years 5 months old, Federer became the oldest man to win a grand slam in a very long time. The bloke was supposed to be finished long ago, and his horrible season in 2013 was supposed to prove that assumption right! In spite of his 3 finals appearances in 2014 and 2015, the run at the titles were momentous hard-pressed pushes which were a match too far, given the invincibility of Djokovic during that period! Federer’s time concerning the winning of grand slams is simply up! In 7 matches at the Australian Open earlier this year, such assumptions which were firmly vindicated again and again, were bulldozed. It is a milestone because from it represents the point from which the two main banes conventionally taken to have held Federer back from winning grand slams – Nadal and age – ceases to matter. It is a milestone because impossibility seemed to have lost its relevance from that point onwards.

That is the meaning of Federer's career to all of us - he is the supreme example of the attainment of excellence, and the maintenance of excellence in spite of conventionally-defined 'insurable odds' which are supposed to have rooted him out, to which all of us can aim to attain (apart from the numerical achievements) Elegant excellence is an attitude.

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