I know it's crazy to bring up Wimbledon with the Australian Open just around the corner, but this match is the earliest match to be covered in our series the Pillars of Roger's Career.
For this article I had to purchase the old match from 1999, and I must say, first I have to get a simple fan reaction out of the way. After all, these are three of the best looking men to ever step on a tennis court!
OMG! There's Pat Rafter in his heyday! There's Lleyton Hewitt too! He's always one of my favorites. And there's Roger Federer! He's just a lad! It's Rafter with the ponytail and Hewitt with a backwards baseball cap on. He was with the ponytail too. And Federer just has short hair (the Rafteresque ponytail would come later - see match with Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001.)
Federer's neck is pencil thin. His face isn't filled out. How cute he looks though!
But the signs are there nonetheless.
There it is right in the middle of the second set: a breathtaking backhand. The single-fisted backhand. Federer swings it for a lob that lands exactly in the corner. Perfect placement! How often would we see that again later!
Rafter, at 27 years of age, is in his prime. Rafter/Bjorkman are favored to win the match, and the commentators discuss how strange for the experienced pair to let youthful Hewitt and Federer get a set and a break on them, and take the first set to a tie-break.
Shortly after this Wimbledon appearance, Rafter would be ranked #1 in the world (though he lost the singles' semi-finals to Agassi). And that year, the pair of Rafter and Bjorkman had won the doubles titles at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Roger's Cup.
But in this match-up vs 17-year old Federer and 18-year old Hewitt, they look out of place. The commentators note that they seem 'tired' or perhaps 'jaded' though they couldn't figure out why. Perhaps because Rafter had just beaten Boris Becker 90 minutes before.
Then, in the 4th set, doubles' specialist, Bjorkman, takes on a leadership role and starts to dictate play. There are a couple of points where Roger's volleying is not as elegant as it will become, and the more experienced duo are back in business.
All the players become bothered by cramps. Federer with the legs, Bjorkman with the back, and Rafter just physically spent.
Still Hewitt has enough staying power to keep Federer/Hewitt in the match. Hewitt serves out of his mind in this match.
Rafter and Bjorkman would eventually win 7-6; 5-7; 3-6; 7-6; 6-4
Federer would end the year ranked #66, the youngest player ever on the ATP Top 100 list. In a couple of years (at age 20), Hewitt would end the year #1, the youngest player to ever hold the #1 ranking.
Hewitt would be the first major rival that Federer would face as his career unfolded. Elements of their rivalry would include the 2003 Davis Cup semifinals
For more of the Pillars of Roger's Career see (many of these still to come):
- Federer/Hewitt vs Rafter/Bjorkman – 1999 Wimbledon
- Rafter vs Federer – 2001 Halle
- Roger vs Pete – 2001 Wimbledon The Future is Federer
- Agassi vs Federer – 2002 Miami Harbinger of things to Come
- Kuerten vs Federer – 2003 Indian Wells
- Hewitt vs Federer Davis Cup – 2003
- Kuerten vs Federer - 2004 FO Getting Smashed in Paris
- Federer vs Agassi – 2004 USO
- Federer vs Roddick 2004 WTF where Federer saves 3 match points.
- Federer vs Safin – 2004 WTF. Perhaps some of Roger’s best tennis.
- Safin vs Federer – AO 2005. A balletic master vs an American football team's front line
- Roger Federer vs Juan Carlos Ferrero – Dubai 2005
- Roger vs Rafa – Miami 2005
- Federer vs Santoro – New York 2005.
- Rafa vs Roger – Rome 2006
- Roger vs Rafa – Wimbledon 2007
- Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick: New York 2007
- Roger Federer vs Janko Tipsarevic: Melbourne 2008 Roger pushed to the limit!
- Roger Federer vs Murray 2008 USO Beacon in a Sea of Troubles
- Murray vs Federer 2008 WTF Federer shows fortitude, though he lost.
- Federer vs Del Potro - AO 2009 Roger demolishes Del Potro
- Federer vs Roddick – Wimbledon 2009 Roger's Historic 15th title vs resilient Roddick