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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Federer's drive to regain primacy is an inspiration to us all

Fourteen years after he first topped the tennis rankings, the Swiss has become the game's oldest number one

Roger Federer reacts after defeating Robin Haase in the Quarter Final of the Rotterdam Open to become the sport's oldest number one of all time. Michael Kooren / Reuters
Roger Federer reacts after defeating Robin Haase in the Quarter Final of the Rotterdam Open to become the sport's oldest number one of all time. Michael Kooren / Reuters

In 1996, Swiss sports journalist Rene Stauffer encountered a 15-year old Roger Federer at a junior tennis tournament in Zurich. One quote from Stauffer’s hasty locker-room interview speaks volumes to the titan he has become: “One should just be able to play a perfect game.” Few would disagree 22 years later – on the week that Federer, 36, became the oldest number one in the history of the sport – that he has accomplished that aim. Over the course of a record-breaking career, Federer has altered the course of tennis history. He now sits atop the sport for the first time in six years. It was back in February 2004, in the week that Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook from his Harvard dormitory, that Federer first reached its zenith. Years later he is still beyond compare.

Evolution within the sport in that time make the accomplishment all the more impressive. With fitter and stronger players, more physicality and constantly improvements in racquet technology, tennis has progressively become a young man’s sport. The modern game exerts heavy pressure on joints and ligaments. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – tennis giants in their own right – are all fighting to salvage their careers in the face of lingering injuries. It is thanks to Federer’s elegant style – principally his uniquely fluid movement – and his selective choice of tournaments, that he can still top the sport today.

Federer never swears, throws his racquet nor complains. After even the longest of matches, he takes time to engage with fans and attend press conferences. He is as gracious in defeat as he is in victory. A committed humanitarian, his foundation has spent $13m building schools in southern Africa.

Early last year Federer slipped to 17th in the world. With 17 grand slam titles, his place in sporting history was secure. His rivalry with Rafael Nadal was regarded as one of the greatest ever. His fortune was vast. With renewed hunger, he fought back to win three grand slams in the space of a year. Roger Federer’s dedication to rule the sport is an inspiration to us all.