Roger Federer set for 20th Wimbledon in a remarkable show of enduring brilliance
Swiss great is seeded second at the age of 37 as he bids to win his ninth title at the All England Club
Twenty years ago, a 17-year-old Swiss novice called Roger Federer first walked through the gates of the All England Club as a professional tennis player. Ranked world No 106, he received a wildcard into the men’s singles Wimbledon draw on account of winning the boy’s title the previous year.
It was a brief visit, though, losing in the first round to 59th-ranked Jiri Novak from the Czech Republic in five sets. He returned 12 months later, this time as the world No 35, but again his campaign ended at the opening hurdle, going down in straight sets to fifth-seeded Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Then came the first breakthrough, in 2001. By now, Federer was 19 years old and seeded 15th but still a raw talent, so when he came up against Pete Sampras – the seven-time and defending champion – it was expected to be the end of the road in the fourth round.
Instead, Federer produced the performance of his young career to send the American packing in five sets. No one knew it then, but it was the changing of the guard – despite another first round exit the next year to qualifier Mario Ancic.
Sampras would never add to his record seven Wimbledon titles, a record that stood until 2017 when a certain Swiss player would add that particular milestone to his growing collection of standout achievements.
Before then, though, Federer still needed to win title No 1. It came on his fifth trip to South-West London, in 2003, and it opened the floodgates: the Swiss won five successive Wimbledon titles, then six in seven years. He added the seventh in 2012, pulling level with Sampras, before striking out on his own two years ago. Federer’s most recent title, achieved at the age of 35, made him the oldest player to win the men’s Wimbledon title in the modern era.
Now two decades on from his first appearance, 37-year-old Federer returns to the All England Club once again to take aim at a ninth title. Despite being at an age when most players have either retired or no longer operate at the highest level, Federer is seeded second and is a leading contender to win the championship.
No player in this year's draw has had greater success nor a greater affinity with Wimbledon than Federer.
"I love being around here. It's a good vibe. I have great memories. My heroes all won here," the 20-time major winner said . "Every time I come back here, I try to be like them."
To claim title No 9, Federer will need to banish the memories of last year when he let slip a two-set lead against South Africa's Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals to lose 13-11 in the fifth set.
The loss was particularly surprising given the ease with which Federer had navigated the previous rounds and raised questions about whether he still possessed the fitness required to handle those marathon five-set matches.
"The losses hurt more, that you don't want to be on the loser's side," Federer said. "It motivates me to do extremely well here because I don't want to sit here and explain my loss. That's the worst feeling you can have as a tennis player."
Federer has done all he can to set himself up for a successful tilt at the Wimbledon title, by winning the Halle Open for a 10th time last week. It was his third title of the year - following wins at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the Miami Open - and moved him on to 102 career titles, just seven behind the all-time record set by American Jimmy Connors.
"To win 10 times in one place is a very special moment in my career," Federer said. "Every time I've won in Halle, I went on to play really well at Wimbledon.
"It's never a guarantee of course, but I've been on the tour for long enough to know what it means."
Indeed, Federer has been around long enough - 20 years to be exact in regards to Wimbledon. Whether he can mark this anniversary with another title remains to be seen, but the fact he is still among the leading contenders after all these years is a remarkable feat in itself.
Updated: June 27, 2019 08:15 AM