No player can be bigger than the sport. Or so they say. Trouble is, one could argue that Roger Federer DID become bigger than tennis – and then some.
Where do we even start?
Do we talk about the titles? With 103 ATP titles amassed between 1988 and 2022, Federer is second only to the record-holder Jimmy Connors, who won 109.
Do we talk about the records? Not only eight Wimbledon singles titles, Federer also won the US Open five times on the spin – nobody else has ever done that. His six titles at the ATP Finals is also the gold standard.
Do we talk about the prize money? Federer is head and shoulders above any other player in tennis history when it comes to the coffers. He has won just over $130M dollars in prize money – third on the all-time list, just behind Djokovic with $159 million and Nadal with $131M. When it comes to sponsorships and career earnings, however, Federer is untouchable.
The 41-year-old has accrued an estimated $1.1 billion, before taxes and agents’ fees, during his 24-year career through a variety of endorsements and sponsorships. According to Forbes estimates, this is more than twice Nadal’s $500 million and Djokovic’s $470 million.
Since having knee surgery during the Covid pandemic, Federer has played very little tennis but has still managed to earn in the region of $90M annually. Eye-watering, right?
Credit Suisse, Lindt, Mercedes, Rolex, Nike and Uniqlo are just some of the big brands to have contributed to his enormous wealth.
And while Roger generated huge wealth for himself, he has done more than was ever expected of him to draw huge crowds and sponsors to the sport itself.
There is a reason the Swiss is called Mr Popularity.
In 2021, Roger Federer won the ATP Fans’ Favourite award for the 19th consecutive year. In addition to that, he was voted by his peers as the recipient of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award a record 13 times, and also as Comeback Player of the Year in 2017.
So what made him so adored in an era of so many greats?
For many, his style of play is top of the list. Federer was famous for never breaking out into a sweat. He moved with the ease and grace of a ballerina while having the killer instinct in spades.
Did you notice Federer eyeing up his prey, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when the moment to seize a match presented itself? It all seemed so effortless.
His one-handed backhand was a thing of wonder, his serve had pinpoint accuracy and his stamina defied his seemingly ordinary physique.
To stand at the top of the ATP rankings for a staggering 310 weeks – a touch shy of six full years – is the stuff of legend. Although Novak Djokovic has eclipsed this record with 373 weeks, it is one of his most glorious achievements.
And let’s not forget that Federer still has the record for the most consecutive weeks at number one – a jaw-dropping 237 weeks. This is more than Rafa Nadal’s total tally of 209 weeks as world number one.
‘Some of Fed’s numbers are laughably impossible to top ,’ tweeted American John Isner. ‘(23 straight slam semi-finals, for instance) but his impact on tennis far exceeds what he accomplished on court’.
Roger will be remembered for many incredible five-set matches and comebacks. For me, the awesome victory against Tommy Haas at Roland Garros in 2009 can’t be topped. He came back from two sets and a break point down to beat the German for an epic 6-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 win. The Round Four win meant he was able to stay on course and finally win Roland Garros in the absence of Nadal to complete the Career Slam.
The four-hour thriller against Andy Roddick in Wimbledon that same year is also one that will live on in the memory. When Federer once said: “I lost some matches I shouldn’t have lost, and won some that I had no right to win,” perhaps he was specifically thinking of this match. It was his 15th major in a total of 20.
Despite his ability to win over crowds in every single stadium he played in, it became less easy to win the big titles once his two biggest rivals – Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – reached their peaks.
Federer retires with a losing head to head against both. They have both now overtaken him in the Slam race, a record which Federer held dear for a good number of years.
But does it matter? Records are there to be broken. There will always be another legend. Another great player who goes on a hot streak and amasses a chunk of silverware.
As one of Federer’s key sponsors, Rolex said in an advert: “How exactly do we measure greatness? By the number of titles? The number of Grand Slams? Maybe, but there are certain things that numbers can’t convey… in time, Roger Federer’s legacy will prove more perpetual than any number.”
Maybe we all have to agree on that.
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