Not for the first time, today Roger Federer stands on the verge of creating tennis history. This afternoon he will take on Novak Djokovic in the men’s final at Wimbledon, and should he win he will have won “The Championships” (as Wimbledon calls itself) more times than any other man in history. Currently, he holds 7 Wimbledon titles, and so jointly holds the record with Pete Sampras. And, in some ways, with William Renshaw from the 1800s, although I am not sure Renshaw can really be counted for reasons I will now explain.
Until 1922, the defending Wimbledon champion did not have to go through any qualifying rounds, he (or she) would merely play in the final against whoever had gone through a knockout competition to challenge him (or her). So, of Renshaw’s 7 titles, which he won in 1881-1886 and 1889, he only had to go through the “challenge rounds” in 1881 and 1889, his other 5 titles involved winning merely one match, the final. So, with all respect to Renshaw, I don’t think it is fair to compare his 7 titles to the 7 won by Sampras and Federer.
Sampras won his 7 Wimbledon titles from 1993-1995 and 1997-2000. For the best part of a decade, Sampras dominated Wimbledon. The only Wimbledon he failed to win between 1993 and 2000 was in 1996, when Dutchman Richard Krajicek won, beating Sampras in the Quarter Finals on his way to the title. Sampras also broke the record for the most number of major titles won (all four majors), eventually winning 14 before he retired.
Federer won the first of his 7 Wimbledon titles in 2003, by which time the era of “serve-volleyers” had come to and end. The 2001 title was won by Croatian Goran Ivanišvić who was a serve volleyer, but the 2002 title was won by Australian Leyton Hewitt, who rallied from the baseline. Federer won Wimbledon in 2003-2007, 2009 and 2012. He was also runner-up in 2008, when he lost to Spaniard Rafael Nadal.
Federer has won a total of 17 major titles, so currently holds that record, but Nadal has now equalled Sampras’ total of 14 titles. And, should be win today, Federer will also become the oldest Wimbledon men’s champion in the open era, as he will soon turn 33.
There is also an interesting auxiliary rivalry to today’s match, as Djokovic now has Boris Becker helping him, and Federer has recently started employing Stefan Edberg to help him. As Becker and Edberg met each other in 3 successive Wimbledon finals (1988-1990), I am sure there is still a healthy rivalry between them, even though they are also good friends.
I for one will be shouting for Federer. I have said this before in previous tennis blogs, but for me Federer is the most skilful player since John McEnroe in the 1980s. His range of shots is, I believe, greater than anyone since McEnroe, and I also feel that Edberg has brought a new confidence to Federer coming to the net, which has never been a natural part of his game but could give him that extra element to win his 8th Wimbledon title in the twilight of his career.
My main fear for Federer is that his progress through Wimbledon this year has just been too easy. He’s only dropped one service game so far in the tournament, and hasn’t yet been challenged in the way that Djokovic will surely challenge him. But, he also knows what winning Wimbledon is all about, and must realise that his chances of winning that elusive 8th Wimbledon title are getting slimmer and slimmer with each passing year.
Fingers crossed that he manages to do it today!