July 22, 2012

Still Going Strong

This week Roger Federer completed his two-hundred eighty-seventh week as the #1 tennis player in the world, giving him the longest reign of any man at the top of this sport.

287 weeks. Over five and a half years.

That's one week ahead of my dear Pete Sampras, the man who Roger's seemed to make a career out of tying and surpassing, four months longer than Ivan Lendl and a full two years more than #5 on the list, John McEnroe. He's got a ways to go before passing Steffi Graf -- her seven and a quarter-year record on top of the WTA rankings is safe for some time yet -- but still playing some of his best tennis at thirty years of age, there's no reason to believe his run is going to end soon.

Sampras might have made his mark on the sport at a slightly earlier age -- he was just shy of twenty-two when he first climbed atop the leaderboard in 1993, compared to Roger, a good nine months older by the time he did the same a decade-plus later. But Federer, now almost thirty-one, seems to be on an upswing -- since the U.S. Open last year, he's compiled a 63-6 record and picked up eight titles. Against top ten players this season he's eleven-and-three, and though he's been tested a few times -- Julien Benneteau and Juan Martin Del Potro both built 2-0 set leads on him at recent Slams -- he's always seemed to find the magic he needs to pull off wins on the biggest stages.

During his final stint at #1, which began just after a run to the 2000 U.S. Open final, Sampras didn't actually play a single tournament -- by the time he got to the year-end championships, he was back down at #3. On the other hand Roger has a full slate for the summer -- in just a week he'll try to complete his Golden Slam at the London Olympics, a feat he's probably more than happy to take on at his "native" All England Club, and he's currently on the docket for Masters events in Toronto and Cincinnati. With relatively few points to defend at those events, he'll likely increase his currently slim lead over Novak Djokovic in the coming months. And if he holds onto the top seed by the time he heads to New York, you can expect big things from him there too -- the five-time champion has only lost at Flushing Meadows once, in the 2009 final, while ranked #1 in the world.

It may seem like he's done it all, given the long list of records he holds, but believe it or not there's plenty he hasn't yet accomplished -- he lacks Olympic gold, of course, and would have to hold onto his ranking 'til at least the end of the season to match Sampras' still-safe six years as World Tour Champion. And though it seems he's won every tournament out there, he's still more than thirty short of Jimmy Connors' 109 singles crowns. He may not break all the records before his reign is over, or even before his career ends -- one day, after all, both have to be -- but something tells me he'll keep fighting until that day comes.

And the way he's playing these days, there's no telling how much more he can still achieve in the meantime.

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