Roger Federer's 300 weeks at No. 1 a tribute to greatness
This marks Roger Federer's 300th week at No. 1, a feat that is a testament to both his consistent dominance over the last eight years and his physical resilience. At a time when his greatest rival, Rafael Nadal, has been forced off the tour because of the physical demands of the modern game, Federer is still going strong at 31. Federer has never retired in the middle of a match in his 14-year career -- he's played 1,066 -- and has withdrawn from a tournament only twice. He's the Cal Ripken Jr. of tennis, an iron man who just so happens to be one of the best -- if not the best -- to ever pick up a racket.
Federer reclaimed the No. 1 ranking in July after making Wimbledon his 17th Grand Slam title and first major championship in more than two years. In doing so, the Swiss matched Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks atop the rankings and has held the position since.
“It’s obviously an amazing number," Federer told reporters in Shanghai after securing the No. 1 spot for another week. "I never thought of something like this when I was a little kid, that’s for sure. I was just hoping one day my dream was going to come true to play on the regular tour, play Wimbledon, maybe become world No. 1 at some stage. So here I am at 300 weeks. It’s pretty incredible. Probably one of my biggest accomplishments. I’m very proud of that record, no doubt about it.”
Few can understand and respect the sheer difficulty of Federer's achievements more than his peers, who have to compete alongside him under the same strain and demands of today's game.
"It's his consistency that's been the most impressive thing," said Andy Murray, 25. "I hope when I'm 31, I still have a lot of desire and still am trying to compete at the highest level. It's such a hard thing to do. He's been doing it now getting close to 10 years. That's very impressive in a sport as physical as this one."
Novak Djokovic, the man closest to Federer in the rankings and the last to hold the No. 1 ranking, echoed Murray's respect.
"It's [an] extraordinary achievement -- there is no doubt about it," Djokovic said. "There is no questioning his results and achievements. At 31, he's winning Grand Slams. He's always a favorite at any tournament he plays in."
And the praise didn't stop at players.
"To have held the No. 1 ranking on the ATP World Tour for 300 weeks is a phenomenal achievement, and quite simply unprecedented," ATP chairman Brad Drewitt said. "The fact that Roger has been able to consistently re-write the record books over such a long period of time is a credit to his hard work, dedication and talent. We are extremely fortunate to have such an incredible champion at the top of our sport."
Of course, Federer hasn't been at the top of the sport his entire career. He first ascended to No. 1 in February 2004, and held on to it for a record 237 straight weeks before Nadal overtook him in August 2008. Federer reclaimed the top billing in 2009 and kept it into 2010, but Djokovic's rise in 2011 bumped Federer down to No. 3.
"Obviously, I lost the world No. 1 ranking a few times," Federer said, "but I also stayed a long time once I got there. I always felt tennis was easier for me playing as world No. 1 than actually getting there.”
Indeed, Federer has done his best work while ranked No. 1, winning 46 of his 76 titles and 88.9 percent of his matches, according to the ATP. Without it, Federer has a .760 winning percentage.
That ability to play his best tennis while holding the No. 1 ranking will be put to the test over the coming weeks. Djokovic has closed within a mere 195 points of Federer after back-to-back titles in Beijing and Shanghai. To end the year at No. 1, Federer knows he'll have to be in peak form down the stretch.
"I would love to finish No. 1 for the end of the year," he said. "For that, it's going to take a great stretch again, winning Basel, Paris and London, I assume, to give myself a chance. We'll see how it goes. I'm relaxed about it. I'll give everything I can. "I want to get through this season well and finish strong. But it's not the No. 1 goal right now. Right now, it's to manage my schedule, hopefully be in good shape for Basel, then kind of go from there. The goal was to become world No. 1 this year, which happened, not the end of the year. But if that happens, that's a bonus."