Wimbledon Anniversary: Federer's 15-Year Success Story
For Roger Federer, Wimbledon was the tournament of his dreams – even as a boy. It is here that he celebrated his greatest triumphs and became a legend, but it is also where he suffered some of his most agonizing defeats. Ten years after his first win, 2013 sees him once again set to defend his title – giving him a chance to become the first ever eight-time winner of the tournament.
1998: Big Moment for the 16-Year-Old
Roger Federer was not even 17 when he competed in the junior tournament, for players up to the age of 18. In the late 80s' he had cheered on first Boris Becker and later Stefan Edberg as they dominated the tournament. In his debut match against Austria's Philip Langer, he is so nervous he thinks the net must be too high. He asks the umpire to remeasure it. "It was fine, of course", he recalls. Gradually, he begins to relax and immediately feels comfortable on the grass court. On July 5, he beats Georgia's Irakli Labadze in straight sets (6-4, 6-4) to win the junior tournament – as well as winning the doubles with Olivier Rochus of Belgium. The success bears fruit: Federer ends the year as the world's top junior player, giving him a large number of wild cards for professional tournaments.
1999: The Price of Inexperience
It's thanks to just such an invitation that he is able to join the main field a year later at the age of 17. He takes the lead against an experienced Jiri Novak (ATP 59) of the Czech Republic, and is two sets to one ahead when he starts to lose his concentration. In the first five-setter of his career, he throws away eight break points in the deciding set to lose 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6.
2000: Boundless Optimist
"It couldn't be worse", says Federer, on finding out that he is due to play two-time Grand Slam winner Yevgeny Kafelnikov. His second outing at senior-level does indeed immediately culminate in defeat. He goes down 5-7, 6-7, 6-7 to the world no. 5, but sees the positive side: "I didn't play very well, but I came close despite that." He raves about the mood on the large Court No. 1, saying he is confident of winning the title here one day – and is instantly regarded as a boundless optimist.
2001: Moment of Glory
Federer gets his season off to a perfect start, and is now ranked world no. 15 at 19 years of age ‒ giving him the requisite degree of self-confidence. Following victory against Belgium's Christoph Rochus and Xavier Malisse, as well as Jonas Björkman of Sweden, he is up against the great Pete Sampras in the final sixteen and able to play on the legendary Centre Court for the first time. Sampras is the King of Wimbledon, having lost only one of his last 57 matches, won seven of the last eight titles, and gone unbeaten in 31 matches. "I'm going to play to win", says a brash Federer. He does indeed succeed in pulling off a masterstroke against his former idol. After three hours and 41 minutes, he converts match point into a 7-6 (9-7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5 win. Tears of joy follow. But the pressure is huge, and in the quarter-final he goes out to Tim Henman in four sets.
2002: Big Ambition, Big Disappointment
Federer is now one of an extended group of title contenders, and the favorite as far as John McEnroe is concerned. "I have a good chance of winning the tournament," says Federer himself. But while he dreams of the title, the top 10 player stumbles at the first hurdle: He loses by a disappointing 3-6, 6-7, 3-6 to 18-year-old Croatian Mario Ancic, the number 154. It comes as a shock. "I didn't know Ancic, and thought he played from the baseline. He immediately charged to the net all the time. I was completely taken by surprise", recalls Federer.
2003: Big Redemption
Federer once again crashes out early, this time in the French Open against Luis Horna. But the player ranked no. 5 in the world makes it to Wimbledon and amazingly survives a fourth-round encounter with Feliciano Lopez despite hurting his back while warming up. As he reaches his first Grand Slam semifinals, he is playing at his very best: He doesn't concede a single set to Andy Roddick, or to Mark Philippoussis in the final, thus becoming Switzerland's first major tournament winner. "This victory changed my life completely. It will probably remain my greatest one forever", he says.
2004: Glittering Confirmation
Federer is now the number one. In bad weather, he storms through to the final once again having lost just one set (against Lleyton Hewitt). In the final, held on US Independence Day (July 4), Andy Roddick puts up a tough challenge for him. On a cold, rainy Sunday, Federer wins the third set – in which he is 2-4 down – in part thanks to a switch of tactics following a rain stoppage. He is now constantly charging to the net, and defends his title with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4 win. "The coach Federer is pleased with the player Federer", says the champion, who is currently without a trainer. Roddick, meanwhile, draws a clear comparison: "I threw the kitchen sink at him, but he went to the bathroom and got his tub."
2005: Wins Triple in a Trance
Federer is now coached by Australian Tony Roche, and playing in a league of his own on grass. At Wimbledon he wins his sixth tournament in succession on a grass surface, conceding just a single set – to Germany's Nicolas Kiefer. He beats Andy Roddick in the final, as in the previous year, but now dominates the early stages of the match, too. After just 101 minutes, he completes his Wimbledon hat trick 6-2, 7-6, 6-4. Federer says he played the final in a trance-like state: "It was a very strange feeling."
2006: New Opponent in Final
The Swiss ace is now at the peak of his many years of dominance. At Wimbledon he reaches his 16th final in succession, and for the first time in a Grand Slam tournament doesn't concede a single set. He meets Rafael Nadal in the final for the first time, Nadal being the only person who has been able to beat him this year – a feat the Spaniard has managed on four occasions. Federer dominates the first set, but Nadal ups his game. In the second set, Federer comes back after being a break down. He loses the third in the tie break, but then plays superbly again – storming ahead to 5-1 and winning his fourth Wimbledon title in succession 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3. "All in all, this was my best Grand Slam tournament so far", he says.
2007: Guest of Honor by the Name of Borg
At 15 sets to one and with a retirement win over Tommy Haas, he once again reaches the final – giving him the chance to win his fifth title in succession. Only Björn Borg succeeded in doing that during the Open Era, and the Swede doesn't miss out on the opportunity to come back to Wimbledon to watch the proceedings. Federer meets Nadal, who now believes he is in with a firm chance, as in the previous year. Thanks to the strength of his serve, Federer wins the first and third sets in the tiebreak; however, Nadal fights back immediately on each occasion to force a decider where he soon earns four break points. Federer fends them all off, and launches into a fantastic finish that nets him a 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 win. One of the first people to congratulate him is Björn Borg.
2008: Drama at Dusk
This is the third final in succession in which he meets Nadal, who dealt him a crushing defeat in Paris four weeks previously (1-6, 3-6, 0-6). But Federer has not yet conceded a single set in Wimbledon, and remains unbeaten on grass in 65 matches. As the final draws to an end in the late dusk shortly before 9:30 in the evening on a rainy July 6, the crowd suspects that they could be witnessing perhaps the best, most memorable match in the history of tennis. Federer roars back after a disastrous start, repels two match balls in the fourth set, but loses 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8), 7-9 to miss out on his sixth title in succession. His verdict: "This is my worst defeat by a wide margin; it can't get any worse."
2009: King of the Grass Returns
Federer travels to Wimbledon as winner of the French Open for the first time, where he makes it to his seventh final in a row almost without effort. In the absence of an injured Nadal, his opponent in the final for a third time is Andy Roddick. The pressure on Federer is immense, given that the 15th Grand Slam title – and with it the record – beckons. Watched by legends Rod Laver, Björn Borg, Pete Sampras, and John McEnroe he plays a low-key game and is unable to stop it from becoming another five-setter. In the longest Grand-Slam final ever, at 77 games, he somewhat luckily wins thanks to his first break of the day after four hours and 16 minutes: 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14. It's a great moment in the history of tennis.
2010: End of His Run of Finals
The title defender is nearly sent home by Colombia's Alejandro Falla in the opening match, but is able to extricate himself at the last minute with a 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0 win. In the quarter-final against the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych, however, there is nothing that can save him: For the first time in eight years, he crashes out before the final with a 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6. He is unable to move as well as normal, and has pains in his back and right leg. Berdych does make it to the final, but doesn't stand a chance against Nadal.
2011: Unwelcome Premiere
Federer founders again in the quarter-final, experiencing a fate he has never faced before in 178 Grand Slam matches: He loses despite having led by two sets to love. In a 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 4-6, 4-6 defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he wins 10 points more than the Frenchman – just not the right ones. He doesn't blame himself: "I played as I had intended. But I didn't make it to break point once, which shows how good Tsonga was today."
2012: End of the Long Wait
Federer gets a major scare in the third round. He loses the first two sets to Frenchman Julien Benneteau, and in the fourth set is once again two points from the exit. In the end, he manages to claw his way back (4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-1). He then goes on to beat Xavier Malisse despite back pain, gives Michail Juschni no chance in the quarter-final, and triumphs over the previous year's winner, Novak Djokovic, in four sets. For the first time his opponent in the final is Andy Murray, with the Brit getting off to a good start. Federer has to dig deep in order to get the second set in the bag. With the score at 1-1 in the third set, it begins to rain and the roof is closed during a Wimbledon final for the first time. For Federer, considered the world's best indoor player, there is now nothing to hold him back. He collects his 17th Grand Slam title 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 – his first in two-and-a-half years. Applauding from the stand are his twin daughters, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, as he is presented with the gold Wimbledon cup – with the little pineapple on top – for the seventh time. "It was a magical moment that I will never forget", says Federer.