ATP top-10 players of the decade – No. 3: Roger Federer

Hannah Wilks:

With the decade coming to an end, the tennis editors have compiled a list of the top 10 ATP and WTA players of the decade counting down to Christmas. Today we profile the unanimous pick for third-best player of 2010-19, the seemingly ageless Roger Federer.

Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest player to ever pick up a racquet, comes in at no. 3 in our ATP players of the decade countdown.

Federer fast facts (2010-19)

Grand Slam titles: 5 (Australian Open 2010, 2017, 2018, Wimbledon 2012, 2017)
Grand Slam finals: 5 (French Open 2011, Wimbledon 2014, 2015, 2019, U.S. Open 2015)
Masters 1000 titles: 12
ATP Finals titles: 2
Davis Cup titles: 1 (2014)
Total weeks at No. 1: 40
Total titles for the decade: 42

I remember the first time Federer burst onto the tour in the late 90s – blond streaks in the hair and a temper for the ages – and thinking that despite the obvious talent, there’s no way this man will have the longevity to play in four separate decades. How wrong I was…

Federer of course enjoyed the bulk of his success last decade, especially between 2004 and 2009 when he reached 20 out of 24 Grand Slam finals (winning 14 of them) and spending all but 40 weeks during that period as the dominant and undisputed No. 1.

The emergence of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic stopped Federer from absolutely blitzing tennis in general. Imagine the amount of slams Federer would be on right now if it wasn’t for those two – in particular Nadal at Roland Garros. It’s always tough and a little foolish to talk hypothetically for the sole reason you’re stepping out of reality, but you’ve got to think Federer would be on 30+ slams right now if Djokovic and Nadal didn’t pursue tennis. When you ponder Pete Sampras would be the next best on 14, it really makes you appreciate the absolute wizardry and talent of Federer – and the fact Nadal and Djokovic, who might well eclipse him in total slam titles when all is said and done, came along to make it the strongest ever era in men’s tennis.

The fact Federer is still playing at this level and is the current World No. 3 at 38 years of age, having achieved absolutely everything in the sport, speaks to his genuine passion for tennis and his competitive edge. He loves testing himself against the younger generation and won’t stop until they prove they can repeatedly beat him (which doesn’t look like happening anytime soon).

Federer started the decade in 2010 by winning his fourth Australian Open title and returning to No. 1, also claiming the Nitto ATP Finals season-ending championships in 2010 and 2011, along with the Wimbledon crown in 2012. However, the Swiss would fail to capture a slam for the next four seasons as Nadal and Djokovic hit the peak of their powers, with Federer’s phenomenal streak of reaching at least the quarter-finals at 36 straight Grand Slams coming to an end in the second round of Wimbledon at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky – ultimately one of Federer’s most shocking defeats.

It’s not as if Federer’s form dipped dramatically – he still made Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon in 2014-15 and the U.S. Open in 2015, along with winning three Masters 1000 titles – but he was slowly losing grip when it mattered most at the business end of slams. Then came the most serious injury of Federer’s career as he was forced to undergo surgery on his knee in 2016 after hurting himself during the seemingly innocuous activity of running a bath for his twins. Federer missed large chunks at the start of the season and after a semi-final loss to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon, decided to shut down his season, meaning it was the first year since 2000 that he had failed to win a title – and also the first time he dropped out of the top 10 in 14 years.

A lot of people, including myself, believed Federer would struggle to get back to winning Grand Slams, especially considering he hadn’t won one in four years before undergoing surgery. But you can never keep a legend down, and Federer returned in extraordinarily strong fashion during the 2017 season, beating Nadal in the Australian Open final and also prevailing at Wimbledon over Marin Cilic. Overall, 2017 saw Federer win his most titles in a single season since 2007 and achieve his highest win percentage since 2006, further highlighting how incredible his resurgence was.

Federer also claimed Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai in 2017 and successfully defended his Australian Open crown in 2018 as he returned to World No. 1 following a victory in Rotterdam, becoming the oldest player in history to be ranked No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

No more slams have been added since No. 20 at the 2018 Australian Open, but Federer has still repeatedly put himself in the conversation, most recently at Wimbledon 2019 when he let slip of two championship points in the Wimbledon final against Djokovic.

Finishing the decade at No. 3 in the world at 38 years of age, Federer is one of the few athletes that transcend tennis and sport in general. His impact on tennis is unmeasurable, much like his talent. As I said, it’s likely that both Nadal and Djokovic will move past him in the Grand Slam title count, but Federer will forever be known as the man who took tennis to the next level and forced those under him to improve.