Roger Federer: Tennis’ Miracle at the Australian Open and Beyond
Roger Federer continued to pad his record Grand Slam total with his latest victory at the Australian Open.
By Jane Voigt
Updated: Jan. 29, 2018 • 10:54 PM ET
Roger Federer continues to amaze after his latest triumph Down Under.
This year’s Australian Open came down to one major headline: Roger Federer won his 20th Grand Slam singles title. At 36 years old, a time when most sport icons have set aside their career goals, Federer's victory was a thrill-fulfilling expectation.
We thought he could do it. But no matter the hopes of millions of fans scattered worldwide, Federer was the man on court, winning seven rounds, doing battle with mind and matter. That he cried and continued to cry during the awards’ presentation Sunday on Rod Laver Arena said many things. For Federer, though, those tears were ones of relief.
“When it was all said and done and gave me the trophy and I was standing in front of the people, it’s when it really hits me,” Federer said in his post-match press conference. “When I start thinking about what I was going to say, every subject I touched is very meaningful and emotional.”
Federer has now won three of the last five Grand Slams, a fact no one in their right mind could have, or would have, predicted (Rafael Nadal won the other two). On Sunday, he defeated a spirited Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
“I’ve won three slams now in twelve months,” he said. “I can’t believe it myself.”
Yet his victory, which also earned him his sixth Australian Open title, was less a fairy tale than a mystery.
Labelling the last year as throw-back tennis undercuts the reality witnessed and miraculous nature of Federer’s longevity. He turned pro 20 years ago, when racquets made with space-age materials and strings designed to bash a tennis ball as hard as a player wanted were on the upswing. He has changed strategies to hang with the toughest and kept all of them tucked inside his Wilson autograph series court bag. That variety and ability to pull any one out in the blink of an eye sets him apart from a field striving to knock him off the throne. Not because they don’t like the man, because they do, but because they also want the glory of winning the biggest of titles: Grand Slams.
No one can definitively say why he has been able to compete at the top of the game for so long. Federer has suffered injuries, most notably his back, but nothing in comparison to, for example, Nadal, whose rough-and-tumble tennis is a direct contrast to Federer’s graceful moves incorporating body leverage that have been aptly described as a dance on court.
Federer’s love of tennis and long-term planning are key puzzle pieces. Federer, though, has admitted that he would pack it in if his family, who travels with him, wanted to stop.
“Not minding the travel and having a great team around me, I think they make it possible,” Federer said. “And then at the end, it’s seeing that my parents are incredibly proud and happy that I’m still doing it and they enjoy coming to tournaments, that makes me happy and play better. And then, of course, my wife, who makes it all possible.
“Without her support, I wouldn’t be playing tennis no more since many years. But we had a very open conversation, if she was happy to do this or not, years ago. So, I’m happy that she’s super supportive…This life wouldn’t work is she said no. Many puzzles need to fit together for me to be able to sit here tonight.”
This was Federer’s 50th appearance at the Australian Open, at the 200th Grand Slam of the Open Era, which began in 1968. He has advanced to seven finals and won six, equalling the achievement of Novak Djokovic and Australian legend Roy Emerson.
“Defending my title from last year so that the fairy tale continues, that’s what stands out for me and not maybe equaling Emerson or Novak,” he said. “They had their own unbelievable careers…Yeah, it’s definitely a very special moment in my life again.”
As the season rolls on, two figures continue to drive the game: Federer and Nadal. The Spaniard is second on the all-time list of slams won with 16. He is ranked No. 1 in the world and Federer lags by a slim 155 points. If that’s not enough to keep fans, sponsors and the media on the edge of their seats, then they should find another sport.