It was eight years ago when the world realized just how good Roger Federer is, and how special he is in the bigger context of Tennis history. Winning three grand slam titles in one year (for the first time) and taking over, without much competition, of the number one sport in the world.
Eight years later, and much has changed in Tennis. All the names of the top 8 players in the world from the 2004 Masters Cup, the Year end’s tournament, have disappeared from the scenery on the ATP world tour. Andy Roddick has fallen to 27th in the world. Lleyton Hewitt is 233rd. Marat Safin, Gaston Gaudio, Carlos Moya, Guillermo Coria and Tim Henman are all retired.
But Roger Federer is still the number one. The namers around him at the top of the rankings have changed, with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray being constant staples of the world top 4 for the past few years. David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic complete the current top 8, which is bound to change in the next few months. But Federer is still there, or here, whichever you prefer.
He doesn’t have the same aura of invincibility he had 8 years ago, but there’s a special aura of greatness nonetheless. In the documentary about the Masters Cup in Houston, it’s shown that the one set dropped by Federer during the whole tournament caused the reporters to start thinking about his unbeatable status. When someone is so untouchable on most surfaces (except for clay), everyone looks for the slightest display of imperfection.
But 2004 was almost perfect for Federer, except his third round loss to Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open. He won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, the first player to win three slams in one year since Mats Wilander in 1988. He won 11 titles that year and finished with a record of 74-6, the highest winning percentage since Ivan Lendl was also 74-6 in 1986.
He’s no longer that dominant. At 30, almost 31, with at least two players who are just as good as him, maybe even better, and obviously younger, it’s pretty much impossible for Federer to be as dominant as he was in 2004-2007, winning 11 Grand Slam titles out of a possible 16. But everything people started seeing and feeling towards him in 2004 – About how special he is, with his special brand of creative shot making, as one man in the film puts it – It seems like he’s inventing shots no one has made before…
But the truest of the thoughts on Federer from the very enjoyable inside look on the 2004 Tennis Masters cup are about Federer’s future and legacy. One reporter said that he has never seen a complete player like Federer before. Another echoed the same thoughts, saying that he will go down as one of the greatest in history. Remember, this was only a year and a half after Federer won his first Wimbledon title. Almost eight years since, Federer has already won 7 times at Wimbledon, and it’s harder and harder to argue about him being the greatest of all-time.