As Roger Federer Turns 30, Let's Celebrate His 11 Years at the US Open
Remember turning 30? That is, for those of you who have reached that major turning point in your life. If you have not quite stood on the precipice on "the day the earth stands still," your day will come.
Bob Dylan once said that you cannot trust anyone who is over 30. I believe the fabled crooner is now over 65. I wonder if he can still trust himself?
Regardless, the fabulous Roger Federer has reached that moment in time when he became one of the throng of "thirty-somethings" on August 8.
For Federer youth is finally over––the storied days of summer seem limited at long last.
There is no need to feel sad for Federer, however, because there is no "crying" in tennis.
Oh, wait. That is baseball.
Federer, in fact, is a huge proponent of shedding tears, whether of joy or disappointment.
Federer generally celebrates his birthday during the American hard-court season culminating in New York City. For the Swiss maestro there is nothing more exhilarating in all of tennis than the fabulous night sessions at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City.
The holder of a myriad of tennis records and the winner of 16 grand slam tournaments has not finished playing tennis even as he turns 30 because he still loves the game.
Celebrities pack Arthur Ashe to see the best tennis the world has to offer, including Federer, and they are rarely disappointed as the last slam of the season sizzles in dying shades of summer. It is the final outdoor event as the Northern Hemisphere begins to edge toward desultory fall and sobering winter.
Roger Federer continues to be one of the staples of the US Open, having reached the finals for six years from 2004-2009. Will he make it a seventh in 2011?
Could the Swiss possibly win a sixth US Open title? That seems to be the question on everyone's lips as the 2011 US Open looms ahead.
In honor of Federer's thirtieth birthday, let us look back on Federer's US Open campaigns starting in the year 2000.
Year 2000: Age 19
Federer advanced to the Third Round of the US Open
Roger Federer turned pro in 1998 still a teenager. During his first full rookie year in 1999, Federer managed to leap from a ranking of 302 to No. 64.
Because the Swiss managed to gain entry into major events by being granted several wild cards, Federer spent little time on challenger and other tennis satellite events.
It did mean, however, that Federer immediately faced very stiff competition, entering the pro ranks.
Early on Federer found it much easier to win indoors than outdoors where the vagaries of the wind and other weather elements interrupted his concentration.
The Swiss finally reached his first professional tournament final in the year 2000, at the Marseille Open. In that final Federer faced fellow Swiss, Marc Rosset. Even though Federer won the first set, he could not defeat his countryman, losing 6-2, 3-6, 6-7.
Federer's summer in the year 2000 was not particularly a good one. But at the US Open Federer managed to advance to the third round.
The Swiss defeated Peter Wessels of the Netherlands in the first round after dropping the first two sets. In the second round, Federer defeated Daniel Nestor of Canada 6-1, 7-6, 6-1. This allowed the Swiss to move on to the third round, where he met Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, seeded No. 12. Federer lost that contest to the Spaniard 5-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-7.
The Swiss did not go down without a fight, but in the end, the rising star suffered defeat.
In the process, Federer got a large dose of the Big Apple, deciding New York City was special.
Year 2001: Age 20
Federer Advanced to the Fourth Round of the US Open
What his Coach Peter Lundgren understood about his charge, Roger Federer, was that the young man had enormous but undisciplined talent. Federer needed to learn how to win or how to simplify the task of winning.
By the time Federer entered Wimbledon in 2001, he was ranked No. 15 in the world. Yet, he had never won a match at Wimbledon, the place the Swiss professed he loved best.
This year, however, Federer would win, scoring perhaps the most significant victory in his young career.
After winning the first three rounds, Federer found himself face to face with Pete Sampras who had won the Wimbledon title seven times.
The Swiss' five set victory over the American Sampras was a major breakthrough for the teenager––although it would take Federer another two years before capturing his first Wimbledon title in 2003.
After suffering injuries during the summer, Federer came into the US Open a bit rusty. Even so, the Swiss advanced to the fourth round where he met the American Andre Agassi, who was showing no rust at all.
Federer came up short––very short to the No. 2 seed Agassi 1-6, 2-6, 4-6.
Federer would have an opportunity to redeem himself for his poor play during this match with the renowned American later in his career. But for now, the Swiss was finished in Flushing Meadow for another season.
Year 2002: Age 21
Federer Advanced to the Fourth Round of the US Open
At the beginning of 2002, Federer won his second ATP tour title in Sydney. He followed that triumph by advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open, falling to Tommy Haas in five sets.
Amazingly, Federer won the clay court tournament in Hamburg, surprising even himself with the level of his play on clay. The win sent Federer into the top 10 in men's tennis.
His attempts at the French Open and Wimbledon, however, begun with such high expectations, were dismal as Federer lost in the first round at both.
The Swiss was able to right the ship at the US Open, even though Federer was no longer ranked in the top 10.
Federer opened by defeating Jiri Vanek of the Czech Republic in four sets and followed that win by upending American Michael Chang in straight sets. In the third round Federer overcame Belgian Xavier Malisse after dropping the opening set.
It seemed that the fourth round at the U.S. Open was Federer’s greatest hurdle. In 2002 he lost in the fourth round to his former doubles partner Max Mirnyi, seeded No. 32 that year. Federer was seeded No. 13, but still lost in straight sets to Mirnyi 3-6, 6-7, 4-6.
Another year of promise in the Big Apple was over as Federer turned 21 just prior to journeying to New Yorlk City in 2002.
Year 2003: Age 22
Federer Advanced to the Fourth Round of the US Open
After years of speculation and whispers that the Swiss just could not win the big ones, Federer won the Wimbledon Championship in 2003.
Finally the Swiss seemed on the verge of domination on the men's tour that would follow shortly in the wake of his victory at the All England Club.
Federer had several opportunities during the 2003 American hardcourt season to rise to the World No. 1 ranking after Wimbledon when the Swiss rose to the No. 3 spot. But early losses in Canada and Cincinnati kept him out of the top spot.
His last and best chance would come in New York City at the US Open where once again Federer advanced to the fourth round.
The Swiss did not lose in straight sets in 2003, but he did lose to Argentine David Nalbandian again in the fourth round, 6-3, 6-7, 4-6, 3-6.
That year, Federer was the No. 2 seed while Nalbandian came in as the No. 13 seed.
Who said 13 was an unlucky number?
Nalbandian would prove to be the last man to defeat Federer at the US Open until countryman Juan Martin del Potro accomplished the feat in 2009.
Year 2004: Age 23
Roger Federer Wins His First US Open Championship
It wasn’t really a tennis match at all. It was something verging on perfection. Roger Federer overcame a man who never quits, Lleyton Hewitt, to win his first US Open Championship 6-0, 7-6, 6-0.
Federer dominated the first and last sets. Sandwiched in between was Hewitt’s attempt at redemption, his attempt to come back against a man playing almost flawless tennis.
While Hewitt gave it his best, in the end, he had no answers.
With that win, Federer became the only man in the history of the sport to win his first four grand slam finals and the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three majors in one calendar year.
Hewitt came into the final at full strength having won his last 16 matches and he had marched into the men’s final without dropping a set. Everyone expected a tight match.
The first set was over in 18 minutes with Federer’s forehand dominating the action while Hewitt reeled under the assault. The second set started with a break of Hewitt’s serve and many feared a rout.
But, the Aussie never quit and he fought back hard, finally breaking back at 5-5 trying to deny Federer the second set.
But Federer established control early in the tie break and swept away any hope Hewitt had to win the second set.
By the time the third set come into focus, Hewitt was finished, having spent all his energies in the second.
Federer took the third set at love. Hewitt stood racket in hand with two bagel sets against him.
The Aussie himself admitted that what Federer had accomplished by winning his third slam title of the year was incredible, especially when considering the depth of talent in men’s tennis in 2004.
Year 2005: Age 24
Roger Federer Wins His Second Consecutive US Open Championship
Federer's opponent in 2005 was America’s own Andre Agassi on the downside of his fantastic career. Agassi had defeated the Swiss easily back in 2001 at the US Open, but Federer in 2005 was another matter.
Federer won the first set 6-3 but Agassi, fearing a potential straight set loss, came back strong to take the second set 6-2.
It was even going into the third set where Federer found himself immediately under pressure as Agassi broke him to go up 4-2. The pro-American New York crowd went crazy but Federer refused to fold and broke back immediately.
Agassi poured every ounce of power and determination into the third set, but Federer held his nerve and the two decided to settle matters in a tiebreak.
The Swiss, however, took the tiebreak without looking back, allowing Agassi only a single point. Federer then swept to the finish line, winning the match 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1.
In his remarks after the match Federer acknowledged the importance of the match to him, defeating Agassi in New York was a dream come true.
At age 35, the American was the oldest finalist since 1974 when Ken Rosewall played at age 39.
2005 marked Agassi's last final at Flushing Meadows with retirement to follow shortly.
But it was a memorable final with two great champions.
Federer grew to love the New York crowds and the boisterous city.
Year 2006: Age 25
Roger Federer Wins His Third Consecutive US Open Championship
Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in the final, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
By winning the US Open in 2006, Roger Federer became the first man to win three Wimbledon titles and three US Open titles consecutively in the same years.
It was just one of many records the phenomenal Swiss was amassing as his career grew.
By winning three US Opens consecutively, Federer equaled Ivan Lendl who was the last man to accomplish this feat in 1987.
The Swiss' opponent in 2006 was American, Andy Roddick who won this title in 2003.
Once again, it was the critical third set that sealed the fate for both players, after they had each won a set.
Roddick’s fortunes had improved dramatically when he hired Jimmy Connors to become his coach earlier that year. Advancing to the finals of the US Open was a giant recovery step for Roddick.
After Federer took the first set, Roddick broke Federer immediately then used his own lethal serve to hang on and take the second set.
Going into the third set both players seemed to find another gear. With break points on Federer’s serve in the fifth game, Roddick could not convert. Roddick then saved five break chances on his own serve. The set grew increasingly tense.
Finally, the defending champion found one more level and broke Roddick in game 12 to take the set. After that, the match was a mere formality as Roddick quickly folded in the fourth set.
Year 2007: Age 26
Roger Federer Wins His Fourth Consecutive US Open Championship
The young bloods were beginning to make their presence known on tour as some of the old guard began to fade away.
For Federer, 2007 was the “black” year. The media began designating the Swiss as “Darth Federer,” as the Swiss donned an all black ensemble for the night sessions in New York City as well as the championship match.
Perhaps it was a signal of foreboding because the final took on a dark tone for the man who seemed to flourish at Flushing Meadows.
Yes, Roger Federer won his fourth consecutive US Open in straight sets against new-comer Novak Djokovic, age 20, but the Swiss seemed in trouble the whole match.
Federer trailed by a break in each set, waiting for the final blow to descend. Instead, the Serbian youngster caved in critical moments and let the master dominate.
That is not to say that Federer did not play well but he appeared nervous and uncertain at times and these doubts had not surfaced in the Federer psyche for a long time, especially not in New York where the Swiss usually felt supremely confident.
In the first set, playing somewhat tentatively, Federer lost his serve in the 11th game. Djokovic served for the first set and was up 40-0 when the wheels came off his game. It is easy to say he choked but perhaps that is an exaggeration.
Djokovic did manage to lose the next five points, and eventually the game, allowing Federer to level the set.
In the tiebreak, Federer scrambled from behind to even matters securing the set when Djokovic double faulted to give the Swiss the first set.
As Federer’s forehand seemed to take on an aberrant life of its own, Djokovic came back, breaking Federer’s serve in the first game of the second set.
But the Serb could not contain his advantage and ceded the game back as Federer broke Djokovic’s serve in game seven.
Once again, the set ended in a tiebreak after several more tense moments on the Federer serve. But this tiebreak had a different feeling as a confident Federer finally emerged, taking command of the tiebreak and set two.
It finally became evident to the defending champion that Djokovic was not going to take advantage of his superior play and that the moment was too great for the Serb.
Federer closed out the match in three sets, becoming the first man to win the US Open and Wimbledon four years in a row.
The world No. 1 also set another modern record in winning four consecutive US Open championships, the first man to do so since Bill Tilden in the 1920s.
Year 2008: Age 27
Roger Federer Wins His Fifth Consecutive US Open Championship
The man with the soft hands and the nimble feet recorded his fifth consecutive US Open Championship at the expense of Andy Murray who had reached his first slam final by dismissing the No. 1 seed, Rafael Nadal.
But, 2008 had not been a typical glorious year for the former world No. 1 as Federer fell in the finals at the French Open in straight sets to Rafael Nadal in embarrassing fashion.
The Swiss then saw his beloved Wimbledon crown slip away, also at the hands of the surging Majorcan who replaced him as the No. 1 player in the world.
To add insult to injury Nadal swept the table taking the Olympic Gold Medal in singles as well.
The win at the US Open in 2008 stopped the bleeding, applying a tourniquet to the Federer psyche. It also gave Federer his 13th grand slam singles title, pushing him past Roy Emerson and leaving him only one behind American great Pete Sampras.
Murray found himself down in set one as he sent the deciding ball into the net during the sixth game allowing Federer to break going up 4-2. In less than half an hour Murray was down one set to Federer.
In the second set, the two traded breaks early. Federer’s final break of the Murray serve gave him set two. In the third set, the Scot settled into defeat, allowing Federer to have his way.
Murray did not rise to the grand occasion and seemed tentative at best on court, playing into Federer’s hands and becoming Federer’s fifth straight victim in the championship match.
It began to become difficult to imagine Federer losing in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Year 2009: Age 28
Roger Federer Advanced to His Sixth Consecutive US Open Final
Nothing lasts forever, not even for Roger Federer who seemed to own the US Open Championship. Juan Marin del Potro had to fight for his life in this match but he never relinquished his belief that he could defeat the man across the net, the world No. 1 Federer.
Federer had not lost a match in New York City for over five years.
He was in the final for the sixth consecutive year and hoping for a sixth consecutive win to tie him with Bill Tilden who accomplished the feat in the 1920s.
Del Potro, age 20, managed to do what his peers, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, were unable to accomplish at Arthur Ashe stadium––outlast and overcome Federer in a final.
Along with Rafael Nadal, del Potro became only the second man in history to defeat Federer in a slam final.
Del Potro joined Guillermo Vilas as the second Argentine to win the US Open title. Fittingly, Vilas was on hand to watch his compatriot win the title.
Going into the match, Federer owned the young Argentine having won their first six contests. But del Potro seemed to learn from each of his losses and his confidence grew with each match.
Several times during the match, Federer held set points and match points, but like the Federer of old, this time del Potro fought his way back, finally casting Federer in the role of the vanquished.
In the semifinals del Potro demolished Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2––sending notice to everyone that a new star was rising. The final was an amazing match to witness as it see-sawed back and forth, as each player seemed to be closing in on the other.
But the last and greatest ascendancy came in the fifth set when del Potro closed the door quickly denying Federer another opportunity to find a way to win.
All human beings in motion must come to rest at some point in time. Federer’s reign as the US Open Champion was stilled for the moment. But perhaps, he will find a way to win there again - if nothing else - simply out of habit.
Year 2010: Age 29
Roger Federer Advanced to His Seventh Consecutive US Open Semifinal
Roger Federer missed playing in his first final at Flushing Meadows since 2003. It seemed very strange indeed that the Swiss would not be playing during the finals of the 2010 US Open, where all New Yorkers were accustomed to watching him do battle.
In 2009, Federer lost in the finals and now this. The perceived order of things in men's tennis was changing irrevocably.
In 2010, Federer advanced to the semifinals of the US Open, where he lost to Novak Djokovic after holding match points. Unlike the Djokovic of 2007 who folded under the pressure of playing the great Roger Federer in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Federer was no longer the dominating force he once was and Djokovic was no longer the knock-kneed wannabe overcome by the moment.
Djokovic came back from being down two sets to one to win the match and secure his place in his second final at the US Open, this time against world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Federer, with every opportunity to put the Serb away, simply could not finish the job, and he lost the match in five sets, proving that the Swiss was no longer the king of tennis.
That is not to say that Federer does not have the will or the talent to win another title in New York City. He does. But now, a win for the Swiss will be a pleasant and welcomed surprise, not an expectation.
Will he achieve another triumph in 2011 to put the icing on the cake, celebrating his 30th birthday? Stay tuned...