x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

History was made in Federer's comeback

As injury plagued Nadal, the Swiss regained his world No 1 status and surpassed Pete Sampras's grand slam record - and he did it again at Wimbledon.

Two months under Europe's hazy summer skies was all it took for Roger Federer to once again reign supreme over the world of tennis. Widely lauded as one of the greatest players to grace the courts, on July 5 he proved the accolade true, once and for all. It began in 2003, when Federer, then aged 21, first dropped to his knees on Wimbledon's Centre Court to cry tears of joy after defeating Mark Philippoussis in a near faultless display to win his first grand slam title.

Six years later his emotions once again spilled on to the courts of south London, this time to mark an historic moment in tennis - his 15th grand slam victory. After a tough 2008 season, where Federer lost his world No 1 crown and relinquished his grass court dominance to Rafael Nadal, the Swiss maestro limped to the end of last year in deflated fashion. It appeared the tables had turned on one of the fiercest rivalries in sport, and belief that Nadal had finally got the better of Federer seemed to be confirmed at this year's first grand slam in Melbourne, Australia.

Reaching the final of the Australian Open provided little relief for the world No 2, who was once again overpowered by his Spanish rival in an epic five-set duel. Federer's outpouring of emotion during his runner-up speech set the tone for a year of on-court tears, joy and tantrums for both the men's and women's sport. Following success in Australia, Nadal looked on course to add a fifth French Open title to his name on the red clay courts of Roland Garros.

Robin Soderling had other ideas. The Swede dug deep to dispatch the Spaniard in the last 16, causing one of the biggest upsets of the year. With Nadal's downfall, Federer saw his chance to claim the only grand slam title still to elude him. Making short work of Soderling in the final, he lifted the trophy to complete a career slam and equal Pete Sampras's record of 14 majors. Federer could not hide the elation and relief at finally being crowned champion in Paris. His win made him only the sixth player ever to win all four grand slam singles titles in the men's game.

Only one month later, he went on to eclipse that achievement. Struggling with tendinitis, Nadal was unable to defend his 2008 Wimbledon title. His absence left the door open for Federer to once again assert his dominance over the All-England grass courts. With Sampras and Rod Laver watching from the Royal Box, a rejuvenated Andy Roddick piled the pressure on the 27-year-old in the longest grand slam final in history in terms of games played.

Roddick played out of his skin, producing a scintillating performance many had thought beyond the American's capabilities. The nail-biting 30-game, 95-minute fifth set was the longest seen in a grand slam championship final. With no tie-breaker in the final set at the historic tournament, Roddick, who had been runner-up to Federer in the 2004 and 2005 Wimbledon finals, eventually succumbed again, this time 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14.

While Roddick emerged heroic, if not triumphant, history belonged to Federer - as did the title of world No 1. As the staged turned to the US Open, the role of leading man once again changed hands. Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro dazzled on the courts of Flushing Meadows, first beating an injury-plagued Nadal in the semis before smashing his way through Federer in a five-set final thriller. Del Potro had made his mark in surprising fashion, while Federer could console himself in the knowledge 2009 had already seen him seal his 15th grand slam win, wed his long-term girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec and become a father to twins Charlene Riva and Myla Rose.

As Federer stuttered in 2008, so Nadal stumbled in 2009. Dealing with one injury after another, success was hard to find after the Australian Open. Nadal was the first player to exit the end-of-year ATP World Tour Final in London- refuelling questions over the Spaniard's ability to come back from his injuries. However, he did have the consolation of helping Spain to retain their Davis Cup crown by defeating the Czech Republic this month.

Andy Murray also failed to deliver on the promising progress made in 2008. After starting the year with a victory at the inaugural Capitala tournament in Abu Dhabi, the Scot made little impact on the season's grand slams. Despite winning six ATP titles, the world No 4 failed to progress further than the semis in all four majors. Nikolay Davydenko's triumph in London last month helped reassert the Russian as a top five player. Now sitting pretty as world No 3, the veteran made a clean sweep over this year's grand slam winners - Nadal, Federer and Del Potro - to win the title, and has set his sights on a repeat at the Australian Open next month.

Although retired, eight-time major winner Andre Agassi caused the biggest controversy in the men's game this year. The American rattled the tennis world with confessions of drug use and lying to ATP officials. As 2010 rolls in, Del Potro and Davydenko will be looking to continue their end-of-year form, Federer will need to fight to maintain his dominance of the majors, and Nadal and Murray will seek to rekindle their winning ways. @Email:sports@thenational.ae