OK so the loss hurt(s) like hell. Roger Federer lost in Round 2 of Wimbledon 2013. The last time he lost this early at Wimbledon was in 2002, 11(!) years ago. The streak that everyone has been talking about has been that magical run that stopped with this loss at 36. For the past 36 Grand Slams, from Wimbledon 2004 to the French Open 2013, the Maestro has reached every single QF. Not only does that mean he’s shown up to all these Slams (no injury and/or withdrawals), but that he’s gone deep enough and played at least 5 matches (Rounds 1 through 4 + QF) in each of them.
Here’s a bit of perspective on that. When the streak started, George W. Bush was still in his first term, Twitter, tumblr and iPhones didn’t exist, and Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man. If you look within the tennis world, Rafa hadn’t won a single Grand Slam, Murray hadn’t turned pro, and the year end qualifiers for the ATP World Tour Finals were (in reverse seeding) Gaudio, Henman, Coria, Moya, Safin, Hewitt, Roddick…and Federer. Federer ended 2004 as World #1 and didn’t give that up for 237 consecutive weeks, yet another of those ‘streaks’ he has in the record books. He also holds the record for total number of weeks at #1 with 302 weeks at the top.
But I digress; I simply wanted to show how impressive it is that he kept this streak going for 9 whole years. In the meantime, generations of players have come and gone, courts surfaces have changed, ball speeds have changed, racket technology has changed and playing styles have changed. Through it all, we knew Roger would always reach at least the QFs. Why? Because he’s Roger Federer and he has thoroughly, utterly spoiled us. No other players’ fans have had it this easy. Murray fans had to wait out this year’s French Open. Rafa fans went through 7 months and 2 Grand Slams of his absence the past year alone. Djokovic withdrew from the 2009 Australian Open despite being the defending champion. Meanwhile Roger got married, had twin daughters, even changed coaches and yet kept showing up every Slam till at least the QFs. We Federer fans have been a privileged lot for almost a decade. If other players’ fans can support them through their misfortunes surely Roger has garnered enough fan-capital with his fans to receive the same?
If the above paragraphs still aren’t enough to lift you out of the doom and gloom don’t fret. It might take you a while but you will survive. I know this because you’ve survived before or else you wouldn’t be here. Do you think the QF streak is the only streak in the Swiss’ glittering career? I take you back to 2005 Wimbledon. Roger won it and then reached the finals of the next 9 consecutive Slams. He won 8 of those 10 finals, no guesses for which 2 he lost. The previous record of consecutive finals was 7 by Jack Crawford in the pre-Open era. Roger’s streak broke at the 2008 Australian Open and everyone thought it was the beginning of the end. Guess what? He started another finals streak of reaching 8 more consecutive ones from the French Open in 2008. It ended when Roger lost in the French Open QFs in 2010. That was 3 years ago and you’re still here, you survived. He survived as well and reached 2 more finals after that, winning Wimbledon in 2012. Just to add, Roger has reached a total of 24 Grand Slam finals which is also a record of course. Lendl is behind him at second place with 19.
Roger simultaneously kept excelling with another crazy streak, his 23 consecutive Grand Slam SFs that also started at Wimbledon 2004 and ended almost 6 years later at the French Open in 2010. That French Open ended Roger’s 2nd finals streak as well as his SF streak. And yet, here you are, you survived. He did pretty well too, and reached 8 more SFs since then. The player nearest to Roger’s record is Novak with 12 SFs as of the French Open last month. If Novak is to break Roger’s record, he needs to reach every SF from this Wimbledon till the French Open in 2016. A bit more trivia, Roger has reached a total of 33 Grand Slam SFs breaking the previous record of 31 held by Connors.
With this loss another streak will end for Roger. For the first time in 10 years he will fall out of the top 4 in the ATP rankings. That’s a decade folks, a decade of ridiculous excellence. He will be ranked #5 unless Berdych wins Wimbledon, in which case he will drop to #6. I know, I know, that one was (is) a hard one to swallow :(. With regards to this topic I have two comments that might possibly offer some consolation.
One: we’ve actually been through something similar to this as well. Remember post US Open 2011? Roger finally fell out of the top 3 to be ranked #4. He didn’t finish the year at #4 though. He did that magical sweep of Basel, Bercy and the World Tour Finals where he won a record 6th World Tour Finals Championship which was also his 70th title in his 100th final. He ended the year on a positive note – and moved back to #3. That upwards run ultimately led him all the way to winning Wimbledon 2012 and regaining the World #1.
Two: part of the reason Roger was able to get back to #1 in 2012 is because his 2011 was relatively less successful which allowed him to pick up new points in 2012 while others, especially Novak, were busy defending theirs. This is a long shot but if you think about it, 2014 will provide opportunities to improve on 2013, gain points back and help him up the rankings. We might have to wait a while but that’s where faith comes in right?
Don’t take my positivity above as a sign of naiveté. I know those streaks were amazing and each time one ended I felt as though I was gutted. But Roger is a tennis legend who is still active, meaning every single time he walks out on court he sets new records in the history books. We might not have those streaks to fawn over but we have plenty more on the horizon. For example, did you know that if Roger participates in US Open 2013 and Australian Open 2014 he will set the record for most consecutive Grand Slam appearances? Or that he needs to reach 2 more QFs to break Connors total Slam QF record? And if he wins just one more title he will leap over McEnroe and have the third most career titles in history? (they are tied at 77).
I guess my final thought is our champ is by no means done. By that I mean both for 2013 and for his career. In terms of 2013, Federer said “overall I think I’ve been playing actually not so bad, like some have portrayed it. Season’s not over here. Only just in the middle. Still have a lot of tennis left. That’s what I try to use for a good end to the season.” Roger was asked about whether this was the end of an era to which he replied, “No, because I still have plans to play for many more years to come. It’s normal that after all of a sudden losing early after being in the quarters 36 times, people feel it’s different.” I don’t think I could sum it up any better than the Maestro.
While “records” and “Roger Federer” are synonymous in tennis, I personally don’t love him just because of them. I love Roger for his beautiful tennis, his on-court artistry, his off-court charm, his graciousness, humility and class. Yes this is a mourning period but as Roger said when asked about his fans, “they’ll be ok… because I’ll be ok”. He has faith that we will move forward with him. I think as fans we owe him that much that we don’t break his faith.
Forever your fan Roger, see you in Montreal!