Dissecting Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slams

Dissecting Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slams
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Following Novak Djokovic’s 18th grand slam title victory, (which put him just 2 behind Roger Federer for the first time since the Serb was 16) in the first slam back since Rafael Nadal tied the Swiss veteran on 20, this seemed like a decent time to reflect on Federer’s grand slam wins.

Australian Open

Dissecting Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slams

Roger Federer has won 6 times at the Australian Open. Between 2004 and 2010 he reached 5 finals, winning 4 and losing the other. He enjoyed this great period of success down under between the ages of 23 and 29, whilst Rafa Nadal was between 18 and 24 and Novak between 17 and 23.

Roger won his first final against Marit Safin. Safin was a 2-time slam champion, winning his second slam a couple of years after this match. He enjoyed his best years between 2000 and 2005, and the ages of 20 and 25. In this time he reached 4 finals, winning 2, as well as exiting at the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final stage twice each. After winning 2005 Australian Open just shy of his 25th Birthday, Safin only ever again reached one Quarter-Final before retiring aged 29.

In his only slam triumph without having to beat a single slam champion or future champion, Federer beat Nicolas Kiefer in the Semi-Final and Marcos Baghdatis in the final. It was the only time Kiefer ever reached a semi in his career and the only time Baghdatis ever reached a final. It was also the only time Baghdatis ever reached the last 8 outside of Wimbledon.

Federer followed this up by beating Fernando Gonzalez, who was also appearing in his only ever Slam final. It was the only time he ever reached the Australian Open Quarter-Finals.

In 2009, Rafael Nadal beat Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(7-3), 5-7, 6-1 in four hours and twenty-three minutes to win the Australian Open for the only time to date. It was Nadal’s first slam final on a hard court and the first slam final on the surface Federer had lost, after winning his first 8.

Federer was able to take the trophy back in 2010 for his 4th in 7 years by beating Andy Murray. That would be his last final appearance there for 7 years until he got revenge on Rafa Nadal for 2009 final, winning his first slam for 5 years and ending a run of 4 straight final defeats to the Spaniard. Both men went 5 in their semis and went five again in the final with Roger winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Both men came into this tournament as outsiders, with Rafa seeded 9 and Roger 17. Roger had missed 2 slams in 2016 through injury and Rafa had not appeared in a slam final since the 2014 Roland Garros. Rafa went into the tournament off the back of failing to win the French 2 years in a row for the only time in his career.

Roger was able to retain a slam with the 2018 Australian Open, the first time he had retained a slam since the 2008 US Open. After coming through a semi-final against Chung Hyeon who was through past the 3rd round for the first and only time to date and retired before the conclusion of the 2nd set, Federer met Marin Cilic and beat him in 5 sets for the 20th slam of his career. This was only the 5th time Cilic had made it past the Quarter-Final stage of a slam.

Since winning in 2010, Federer has reached 2 finals at the Australian, winning both, Djokovic has reached 9 winning them all and Rafa has reached 4 losing them all. Since Novak won the first of his 9 Australian Open titles, Federer hasn’t had to beat him to win the slam. In 2017, an out of sorts Djokovic lost in the 2nd round against a wildcard and in 2018 he was stunned by Chung Hyeon.

Roland Garros

Federer has made 5 Roland Garros finals all coming between 2006 and 2011 whilst aged between 24 and 29. Meeting Nadal in the final 3 years in a row, he lost the first two in four sets before losing 2008 final 1-6, 3-6, 0-6.

A year on from this painful and humiliating loss, Roger would be lifting his record-equalling 14th slam and 1st Roland Garros. After Robin Soderling had given Nadal what would be his one and only defeat in 10 years at the French, Federer took the trophy beating Nadal’s conqueror in the final in straight sets.

Federer’s final RG final appearance came in 2011, when he was beaten in the final by Nadal for the 4th time in a row, the 3rd time on clay, and the 5th time in their last 6 slam finals. Federer did take 19 games from Nadal in this match, which is the most anyone has ever won in a RG final against him. The first 3 sets were close before Nadal run away 6-1 with the 4th.

During this period of 5 RG finals for Roger, Djokovic was between the ages of 19 and 24. He made his first RG final in 2012, and Roger hasn’t appeared in one since. Whilst Djokovic has played a total of five finals, winning one and also becoming only the 2nd player to beat Nadal at the French.

Wimbledon

Roger Federer has won a men’s open era record of 8 Wimbledon titles. He picked up his first 5 consecutively between 2003 and 2007, with his first coming to a couple of months shy of his 22nd birthday and his fifth coming before turning 27. During this time Nadal was between the ages of 17 and 21, and Novak aged from 16 to 20.

Roger won his first major at his most beloved slam in a straight-set victory over Mark Philippoussis who was appearing in his second and last grand slam final, a first since losing in four to Pat Rafter 5 years previous at the US Open (this was incidentally the only time Philippoussis reached the Quarter-Finals at a slam other than Wimbledon in 28 played.) The two slam finals he played were also the only two times he reached a semi-final.

Roger retained his title the following year beating American Andy Roddick in four.  Roddick was best known for his huge serve and enjoyed the best years of his career between 2003 and 2006. In this time between the age of 20 and 24, he played 4 slam finals, winning one, his home slam at Flushing Meadows in 2003 against Juan Carlos Ferrero and losing the other 3 to Federer.

During the golden years of Roddick’s career Nadal, Djokovic and Murray were still teenagers. Before Roddick’s retirement-aged just 30 in 2012, he reached 10 semi-finals of which he won half.  However, only two of those semi-finals came after his 25th birthday, which shows Roddick was not able to maintain his success once the other 3 members of the big 4 reached their 20s. Roddick trailed Murray 8-3 in h2h, Nadal 7-3 and Federer 21-3.

Federer made it 3 in a row in the first of his 3 successive Wimbledon Finals against Rafa Nadal, and the second of six successive slam finals on European Soil. Nadal went down first in four on Centre Court, before getting closer in 2007 losing over 5 and then finally going all the way, prying the trophy away from Federer’s grip to win his first major of the clay in another 5 setter and one of the all-time great tennis matches.

This 3-year battle started with Nadal just out of his teenage years, culminating in him winning his first Wimbledon having just turned 22, whilst the more seasoned Roger was between his 25th and 28th years for these 3 finals.

Following his triumph Rafa Nadal would make the final in each of his next 2 appearances at Wimbledon, winning one against Berdych in 2010 and losing the other in Novak Djokovic’s first triumph on the grass. Nadal has not made the final in 7 appearances since then and has only reached 2 Quarter-Finals on what is known to be his worst and least favourite surface.

Federer won his 6th Wimbledon in 7 years in 2009, with defending Champion Nadal out injured. In a four hour 17 minute final, he triumphed 5-7,7-6(8-6), 7-6(7-5), 3-6, 16-14 for his fourth successive slam final win over Andy Roddick.

After beating Lleyton Hewitt in 5 sets in the Quarters and Andy Murray in the semis in another 5 setter, this was the only time Roddick took Federer to 5 sets in four attempts before he finally succumbed in a 30-game deciding set. Whilst Roddick fought out the earning of 6 sets for the loss of 4 against a past Wimbledon Champion and a future one, Federer had coasted through in straights against Ivo Karlovic and Tommy Haas, surely an advantage as the final progressed into the late, late stages. This was Federer’s 15th slam, taking him above Pete Sampras as the man with the most slams in history. He was 28 years old. At this time Rafael Nadal had won six slams and Novak Djokovic one.

Between 2003 and 2009 Roger won 48 Wimbledon matches and lost one, reaching 7 finals out of 7 and winning 6. Since 2010 he has reached 5 finals and won 2. His next final saw him take on Andy Murray, in his first Wimbledon final and still waiting for his maiden slam.

Federer triumphed in four from a set down following the closure of the centre court roof. This was Roger’s first major since turning 30 and he has since won 3 more. Nadal has won 6 since turning 30 despite being 5 years younger and Djokovic also 6 despite being 6 years younger.

After a shock early exit in 2013 to a low-ranked player, Roger came back strong in 2014, reaching the final but losing  7-6(9-7), 4-6, 6-7(4-7), 7-5, 4-6 in just under 4 hours to Novak Djokovic. He would lose the final again to Novak the following year, this time in a more routine 4-setter, despite the first two sets being close.

After a 5-year wait, Roger’s record-breaking 8th Wimbledon arrived at the 2017 Championships. With defending two times Champion Andy Murray and 3-time Champion Novak Djokovic both exiting the Quarter-Finals with injury, the path cleared for Federer. In the final, he beat a clearly injured and tearful Marin Cilic.

In Federer’s last grand slam final to date, he lost his fourth straight final (and third on Centre Court) against Novak Djokovic in a match even longer and every bit as close as their 2014 final. After 4 hours and 57 minutes, the outcome was the same as it had been 5 years previously, with Djokovic holding his 5th Wimbledon title and Roger having to make do with the runners up shield, as he went down 6-7(5-7), 6-1, 6-7(4-7), 6-4, 12-13(3-7).

US Open

Federer has won 5 US Open titles, which is a joint open era men’s record. He won all 5 consecutively, between 2004 and 2008 whilst aged between 23 and 27. At the time Nadal was aged between 18 and 22, and Djokovic between 17 and 21. Roger’s first US Open title and 4th overall came against Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets 6-0, 7-6, 6-0. Hewitt was a 2-time slam champion who enjoyed by far the best years of his career between 2000 and 2005 and the ages of 19 and 24.

During this time from 20 majors played, he reached 4 finals, winning 2, as well as exiting at the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals stage four times each. But similarly to Roddick and Safin, he did not maintain his early 20′s form into his mid and late 20′s. In fact, he only reached 1 more Quarter-Final after his 26th Birthday until retirement a month shy of his 36th birthday.

Federer retained a year later against 35-year old Andre Agassi playing his 1st slam final in nearly 3 years. Agassi was an 8-time champion and undoubtedly a top player but he was the beneficiary of a not extremely strong 90s and early 00s era. 4 of his final wins came against guys who never won a slam, and only one was against the other great men’s player of the 90s Pistol Pete Sampras, who led him 4-1 in slam finals.

Andre Agassi beat wildcard James Blake from 2 sets down in the Quarters and Robby Ginepri in his only semi-final appearance in another 5 setter, suggested this was little other than a once-great player taking advantage of a weak half of the draw. Following his 2005 US Open defeat to Federer, Agassi would go 4-2 in slam matches before retiring.

After the customary Slam final victory over Andy Roddick, Federer made it 4 in a row and won his 12th major against a 20-year old Novak Djokovic, appearing in his first slam final. This was the first and last time Federer would beat Novak in a final, losing 4 consecutively since.

And the last of Roger’s 5 came against another final debutant who would later join what became known as the Big 4, Andy Murray who lost in straights. Federer’s 5-year hold and 41 matches winning run at the event finally came to an end against Roger’s third US Open final opponent in a row who was making his slam final debut, Juan Martin Del Potro. Roger led two sets to one, but went down in 5 sets, in what was the only slam triumph of the Argentine’s career.

Since the match, despite being injury-plagued, both Del Potro and Federer have both only been back in one US Open final since, and both men were beaten by Novak Djokovic with Federer losing in 4 despite the best efforts of the crowd.

Since 2009, in which time Federer has reached one US Open final, the same amount as Kei Nishikori, Djokovic has reached 7, winning 3 and Nadal has reached 5 winning 4.

Summary

It’s interesting to me the perception from much of the tennis media and tennis fans of Federer’s 20 wins. Little acknowledgement is ever given to the fact that most of Roger’s win did not come in the Big 3/4 era.

Due to his age, he was around at the ideal time to capitalise during a time Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi had come to the end of their careers (Federer faced Sampras just once and won his last 8 meetings with Agassi) and his top competitors at the time were Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin.

The men won 5 slams between them (Hewitt’s 2 coming before Federer came on the scene) but the way all three completely fell away once Djokovic and Murray joined Nadal on the scene, despite them not being old themselves, reflects badly on them and suggests that despite them being solid players in their early 20′s, they weren’t bad players to have as rivals.

Rafa and Roger have been rivals and competitors for a long time, but Roger’s 5 year age advantage still gave him plenty of opportunities to get out ahead. He was 1 shy of the Career slam before an 18-year old Nadal had even played his 1st slam final and won his 8th major in Nadal’s first non-clay final. Roger had racked up 12 before Nadal won his first major outside of Paris.

Roger Federer is known for his longevity, but the majority of his winning came in a short period. Roger won 12 of his 20 slams and reached 19 of his 31 finals in the space of 4 and half years. Between Wimbledon 2005 and Australian Open 2010, he won 12 of the 19 tournaments and was runner-up in the other 6, losing one semi-final. In this absolutely dominant phase of Federer’s career, he was aged between 24 and 28, Rafa between 19 and 24, and Novak was 18-23.

In this period Nadal won 5 slams and was runner-up in 2 and Novak won 1 and was runner-up in another. Even though this was by far the most successful period of his career and one of the most dominant runs ever put together in tennis, he still trailed Nadal 5-2 in matches played in this time.

Federer was 28 at the time of winning the 2010 Australian Open, it was his 16th slam and his 22nd final. Since then he has made 9 finals winning 4. He has never won consecutive slam finals against either Nadal or Djokovic, both of whom have won 4 consecutive slam finals against him, and 3 consecutive against each other.

The number of slams Federer has is great, but the context of when they were won sheds some light. All 5 of his US Open wins consecutive, 4 of his 6 Australian Open wins coming in the space of 5 years, 5 of his 8 Wimbledon’s coming consecutively and all of these wins coming before Nadal, Djokovic and Murray had reached their respective peaks and were in their teenage years and early 20s.

Dissecting Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slams
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