March 10, 2021

The Return of Roger

405 days.

That's how long it'd been since we last saw the great Roger Federer in a professional tennis match.

It'd been even longer since he'd won one. (😢)

After a semifinal loss at last year's Australian Open, where he'd survived not one, but two five-set matches, he underwent not one, but two knee surgeries and had to miss the rest of what would end up being a severely abbreviated season. We got glimpses of him here and there, of course, but his absence on court was certainly felt -- and, in someways, it opened the door for some big moves.

Not only did Rafael Nadal tie Roger's record of 20 Grand Slam titles and Novak Djokovic surpass his reign of 310 weeks ranked #1, but a slew of others moved in on what has long been his turf -- Dominic Thiem won his first Major, Daniil Medvedev climbed past him in the rankings and within a whisper of ending the stranglehold the Big Three have on the top two. And players like Sebastian Korda and Aslan Karatsev, well off the radar a year ago, have since emerged as real forces in the sport -- ones that could challenge the status quo.

That's not to say these things wouldn't have happened had Federer played a normal schedule over the past fifteen months, but they certainly came with fewer roadblocks.

So that begs the question of what happens now that Roger is back. The 39-year-old (🤯) made a winning return today in Doha, a tournament he's won three times before, saving set point against Dan Evans in the first and breaking late in the decider to secure the win. He'll next face Nikoloz Basilashvili, who had a much easier time with his second round, and can't be assumed of victory, despite his second seeding and his previous drubbing of the Georgian in Melbourne in 2016.

Of course Fed's bigger tests will come against the better players -- Thiem looms as the top seed in Doha -- and on the bigger stages. While he announced earlier this month he won't be playing in Miami as he continues to rehab, there's still hope we haven't seen the last of him at the Majors. Will he still have what it takes to compete against the Rafas and Noles of the world in best-of-five matches? Well, if anyone can do it, it's probably him.

But until we get there, let's just revel for a moment in what Roger was able to do today. He's now won 1,243 matches over 24 seasons (🤯🤯), putting him one strong season away from passing Jimmy Connor and further distancing him from his contemporaries. And as we're bound to have the 🐐 conversation a lot more over the next few months and years, that stat might go a long way toward making a case for Roger.

Wherever we land though, you can bet we've still got a lot more fight left to see from this guy, and it sure will be fun to watch.

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