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Federer @ 30: The fire still burns bright

Last updated on: August 8, 2011 09:00 IST

Federer @ 30: The fire still burns bright

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Bikash Mohapatra

Federer's greatness oozes from the manner in which he has dominated the sport for a substantial part of the last decade, says Bikash Mohapatra.

'Well, I think when I look at Roger, I mean, I'm a fan. I'm a fan of how he plays, what he's about he's a class guy on and off the court. He's fun to watch. Just his athletic ability, what he's able to do on the run. I think he can and will break every tennis record out there.'

Pete Sampras, describing Roger Federer, the player who followed him on the road to greatness.

It was no irony, therefore, that the Swiss started his journey at the American's expense -- a five-set triumph in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2001, at a time when Sampras was a four-time defending champion at the event, meant Federer came into the limelight for the first time.

A decade later, as the Swiss celebrates his 30th birthday today, there's no doubting the player's credentials as one of the world's best of all time, if not the best!

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Image: Roger Federer

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Stats tell the whole story

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It is difficult to describe Federer's genius in words. Statistics! Well, they do corroborate the magnitude of his success.

For the uninitiated, the Swiss has, amongst other, won a record 16 Grand Slam titles, having appeared in an unprecedented 23 finals (10 being in succession), completed a haul of all the four major trophies (one of the elite seven), reached the semi-finals or better of 23 successive majors (29 straight quarter-final appearances), won a record five ATP World Tour Finals (shared with Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras) and 17 ATP Masters Series titles (tied second all-time with Andre Agassi, behind only Rafael Nadal) and been the No.1 ranked player for a whopping 285 weeks.

However, Federer's greatness is not consigned to facts, records and stats alone. It oozes from the manner in which he has dominated the sport for a substantial part of the last decade.

Coming from a country (Switzerland) that didn't have much tennis history, it is definitely a great achievement. And a tad surprising as well.

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Image: Roger Federer and Pete Sampras

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Stamping his authority

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For, despite getting instant recognition following the above-mentioned upset of Sampras, it took time before Federer stamped his class.

The following years were as much about disappointments as they were about triumphs. If on one hand it was about winning marquee events (like Hamburg), on the other there was the ignominy of losing final matches to lesser-known entities, like Nicolas Escude, Davide Sanguinetti, Felix Mantilla and Jiri Novak. In fact, the Swiss lost six of the first eight finals he contested.

A straight sets triumph over Australian Mark Philippoussis, besides earning him the first of his six Wimbledon titles, also changed the course of his career to a considerable extent.

In the four years that followed (2004-07), Federer won 11 of the 18 Grand Slams played, while dominating most of the events he featured in, thereby stamping his class as a player, an indelible imprint so to speak.

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Troubled times

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The last few years were topsy-turvy (2009 being an exception). Federer hasn't won a major title since his triumph at the Australian Open at the beginning of 2010, he hasn't won any title since January this year, the title in Doha being the last of his 67 trophies and hasn't held the No.1 ranking for 15 months now.

In fact, he has now slipped to No.3. But that has more to do with the fact that the Swiss now has more than one rival to contend with.

While Nadal is his nemesis for some time now, the emergence of Novak Djokovic this year, and to an extent that of Andy Murray, coupled with the fact that he isn't getting younger, implies the Swiss is facing a bigger challenge at present.

Having won almost everything the sport has to offer could also explain a lack of motivation (something which he has denied). Besides, there's a change of priorities following marriage and fatherhood.

If one takes into the above factors into consideration, the slump in Federer's results in recent times gets a definition. At the same time, it can't be denied that he has the ability to bounce back.

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It's not over for Federer, yet

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He may not be the dominant force he used to be, but Federer still has enough firepower to remain at the top for a few more years. Besides, getting the No.1 rank and adding to the existing major titles could just be the motivation he needs to propel himself for a few years more.

Austrian pro Jurgen Melzer aptly summed it up after beating the Swiss at Monte Carlo this year.

'You always have to respect Roger. For him to be three in the world is a downgrade, and if you think about that it's stupid,' he said, adding, 'For me he's the greatest player ever.

'Every time he loses, it's tragic.'

Here's hoping Federer will start afresh on his 30th birthday, add a new chapter to his already glittering career and bounce back with renewed vigour.

For players like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi, to name a few, turning 30 marked the start of a new phase in their respective careers. There's no reason why the same can't happen in Federer's case.

And what better birthday present he can gift himself than a title triumph at Montreal -- the tournament begins today -- a city where he has never won before.

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