Because he won the Davis Cup (finally) and despite not claiming a Grand Slam trophy and for many other reasons, 2014 was another year in which Roger Federer proved why he’s the greatest tennis player of all-time, furthering and expanding his legacy instead of diminishing it at the age of 33.
So Rafael Nadal is closing in on the Grand Slam titles? Nadal can take his impressive head-to-head record with Federer and also his dominance in just one tournament and be proud of it. He’s the greatest clay player in history. But as we’ve mentioned in the past, longevity, consistency and yes, staying healthy, has a big part to play in the formula that decides who is the best tennis player in history. Nadal is still a few wins away, but even if he makes it, there will be a huge asterisk over his achievement unless something drastic happens in the next four years.
So what was so special about Federer this year? He didn’t win a Grand Slam title, usually the most important criteria upon which greatness is measured. But besides the total of 8 weeks a year in which Grand Slam tournaments are played, there’s almost eight or nine more months of Masters tournaments, Davis Cup matches and the smaller moments of the tour, that are just as important and magical. Federer, with another pair of twins to “bother” him, back problems and simply getting older, the baddest bitch of all when it comes to an athlete, kept on shining.
The achievements? He reached 11 tournament finals, winning five of them. He won two Masters tournaments (Cincinnati and Shanghai), reached the Wimbledon final, losing to Novak Djokovic and finished it all by winning the Davis Cup next to Stanislas Wawrinka. Maybe Wawrinka did more through the whole year of Switzerland making history, but the spotlight belongs to Federer, always.
What’s the big deal, some will say. Djokovic has won it in the past. Rafael Nadal has done it multiple times. Well, it’s about depth. Serbia has talent beyond Djokovic. Spain? Just like France, only without the loser gene filling their ranks, are filled with top 100 players and have an incredible number of options even when their best players aren’t up to the task of playing for their country. Federer has done so well through so many years in a country with zero depth at the sport. Wawrinka is the exception, and he’s only raised his level to the necessary one in the last two years.
But back to his single’s year. Federer finished the year as the second best player in the world according to the ATP rankings. He played in 17 tournaments, which is an incredible toll on one’s body, and his 11 finals are his most since 2007, his last real “giant” year, when he made it to 12 tournament finals, including winning three Grand Slam titles.
In the 17 tournaments Federer took part in, only two of them ended for him before reaching the quarterfinals. That’s 11 finals, two quarterfinals and two semifinals. Consistency at an incredibly high intensity level. He played 85 matches, 23 more than in last season, and won 73 of them. He hasn’t won so many matches since 2006, and hasn’t won such a high ratio of his matches since 2007. No Grand Slam, but almost a historic year for him.
Federer didn’t improve his individual record against Nadal this year, losing to him on the only occasion in which they’ve met. No matter how you try to turn it, Federer just can’t get an edge over the Spaniard. But that doesn’t take away from what he’s done in tennis, things Nadal, or any other player, have never been able to do, and probably never will. He finished with a 13-5 record against top 10 players, including 3-3 when facing Djokovic. One loss was a five-setter at Wimbledon, the other was the match he didn’t show up to, the World Tour Finals final.
Bottom line? You probably guessed. Sometimes legends, myths and greatness is defined in more than one way. Federer has done everything, completed every task there is to face in Tennis. He’s still facing these challenges at an age in which most Tennis stars become irrelevant. Bur Federer is special, different and better when you sum up his career than any one else. After being counted out so many times, it shouldn’t be surprising that he keeps on wowing us.