What is the best reaction to becoming the oldest tennis player in history to be ranked No. 1 overall in the world? It’s probably saying “somebody might have mentioned that to me already but I had a hard time hearing” as Roger Federer did on Twitter.
Federer needed to reach to the semifinal in the ATP Rotterdam Open to take back his throne ranking after more than five years. Instead, he decided to go above and beyond, adding another possession to his trophy case (more like trophy room, with the title count approaching the century mark).
He defeated No. 42-ranked Robin Haase in three sets, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, in the quarterfinal to guarantee his place at the top, but of course, that wasn’t enough for the Swiss maestro. He maintained his undefeated status by taking down No. 81-ranked Andreas Seppi, 6-3, 7-6(3), and No. 5-ranked Grigor Dimitrov, 6-2, 6-2.
The maestro replaced another tennis legend — Andre Agassi — as the oldest player to be ranked at the top in men’s tennis. Federer will be 37 in August, but he has showed no signs of slowing down in recent competition. In comparison, Agassi was 33 on his last day holding down the top spot.
Federer is arguably the best player in the history of tennis, but it’s hard to imagine anyone that expected to see him at No. 1 again, even just one year ago.
After 2012, when he was last ranked No. 1 in the ATP rankings, he had a very tough couple of seasons. With increasing age and his struggle through injuries, people even started to question whether he would soon retire or not.
He dropped all the way back to No. 17 in the beginning of 2017.
In 2013, Federer only managed to go all the way at the Gerry Weber Open. It was the first year during which he ended a year with just one trophy since he won his very first title in 2001.
The struggle continued as the next four years went by without a Grand Slam title — odd for a man who at the time held the record for the most of such with 17.
Rather than settle, his winning resume now consists of 20.
Federer returned to the spotlight as if he was in his 20s, not 30s. But how?
He ended 2016 without any titles as he decided to take a break from tennis in the middle of the year. Nagging injuries forced him to take such action but considering the unlikeliness of returning even stronger than before, his fans were also forced to fear that they might not see him ever again on the courts.
In professional sports, the history was against such an extended break in the latter stages of one’s career.
“For me it worked out,” Federer said after speculation of extended breaks for fellow tennis stars such as Novak Djokovic. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to work out for everybody.”
Federer, however, came back to the courts with the enthusiasm of his 20-year-old self with no sign of aging when he defeated his archrival Rafael Nadal in the 2017 Australian Open final.
“I just made the promise to myself that when I do come back, I want to come back like I haven’t eaten like a crocodile in a year,” Federer in an interview for USA Today. “I don’t know how to explain it, but you need to be incredibly hungry.”
It was a historic match fans will never forget. The return of a legend, the revival of one of the best rivalries in sports and a grand slam final that went to the fifth set — everything was perfectly in place that night.
He later skipped the clay court season in 2017 after an incredible start with the Australian Open, Indian Wells Masters and Miami Open consecutively.
He displayed the importance of rest by winning the Wimbledon, his signature grand slam, for the eighth time — yet another record.
The sky remains the limit for the G.O.A.T., and it’s hard to find anyone who deserves the label more than Federer, even though some young fans might have problems understanding the nickname.
We can only hope that he will continue what he does, whether he is No. 1 or not: to keep his pinky promise to the young fan in the aforementioned video to keep playing eight more years.