At the 2018 Australian Open Roger Federer claimed his spot atop the podium of the greatest champions of the sport.
Along with the title, the Swiss legend extended his record to 20 major championships throughout his career. Rafael Nadal is next with 19, and Novak Djokovic rests in bronze medal position with 17.
It wasn't long ago that the idea of Federer one day closing in on the potential magic number of 20 would have seemed laughable. But he's the first to get there thanks to some vintage form back in 2017, winning two majors and three Masters Series 1000 tournaments in an epic season.
His last title at the recently cancelled Wimbledon was in 2017 and was only the second time that he had won a grand slam without dropping a single set. But was this fortnight his most dominant ever? Or was it the 2007 Australian Open when he also didn’t lose a single set? How about the 2007 U.S. Open when he beat the 5th, 4th, and 3rd seeds all in a row in straight sets? Heck, you could probably even make an argument for the 2017 Australian Open when he beat four top-10 players capped off by a gritty win over his greatest rival.
20. Australian Open 2018
Seeds defeated: Tomas Berdych (20), Maran Cilic (6)
Sets lost: 2
Federer's most recent slam takes up the last spot in the list as it was just one of those tournaments that does not seem to live too long in the memory.
Yes, it was a record-breaking 20th Grand Slam, but Federer was never tested. A walkover in the semi-final made the tournament even easier for the Swiss. Marin Cilic put up a good fight in the end but capitulated in the final set. Roger served well, hit some delectable forehand half-volleys, and improved his final set record (a chink in his armour in the past) but I have to put this Slam in last spot.
19. Australian Open 2006
Seeds defeated: Nicolas Kiefer (21), Nikolay Davydenko (5), Max Mirnyi (30)
Sets lost: 5
It seems strange putting a tournament between the period of 2004 – 2007 near the bottom of this list. After all, this was when Federer was at the height of his powers. His 2006 season remains one of the greatest years in men’s tennis in the history of the game. His forehand was monstrous, his serve was pinpoint, his movement was at its peak, and the aura that he brought on the court was already established.
And yet, this particular run in Melbourne was not all that impressive. That being said, a large part of that was somewhat outside of Federer’s control. To his credit, he defeated the tournament’s 5th-seed Davydenko, and unseeded Marcos Baghdatis certainly played like a top-10 player throughout the tournament. Still, overall the level of competition put in front of Federer makes this particular Australian Open look unspectacular.
In addition to the opposition put in front of him, the Swiss superstar also uncharacteristically dropped a large number of sets throughout the tournament by his lofty standards at the time. He was pushed to 5 sets by unseeded Tommy Haas in the 4th round and also dropped sets to Davydenko, Baghdatis, and Nicolas Kiefer.
18. Wimbledon 2006
Seeds defeated: Nadal (2), Ancic (7), Berdych (13)
Sets lost: 1
Again, I apologise if it seems blasphemous to continue placing peak-year tournaments this low on the list, but this particular one also stands out for the lack of strong competition.
Of course, on the surface, there is one particular name that stands out massively regarding those whom Federer took down, but Rafael Nadal was not at all yet the same player at this time as he would become in another 2 or 3 years. He was already an unbelievable clay court player, but his game had not yet become as reliable on other surfaces. He was capable of brilliance, but brilliance was not yet a constant on faster surfaces.
Other than Nadal, Federer’s second week at Wimbledon in 2006 consisted of a young and inexperienced Tomas Berdych, inconsistent Croatian Mario Ancic, and a 34-year-old Jonas Bjorkman.
Federer’s level of play at this tournament was outstanding, but seeing competition like this awaiting him in the second week of a major is part of what lends credence to the argument often expressed by critics that at least part of the Swiss’ dominance can be attributed to a dip in the competition that the sport experienced in the year or two between the Safin-Hewitt-Nalbandian years and the emergence of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.
17. U.S. Open 2008
Seeds defeated: Murray (6), Djokovic (3), Andreev (23), Stepanek (28)
Sets lost: 3
This tournament was a lifeline for Federer and his fans after how 2008 had gone for him. In general, almost every single tennis player in the world would have been thrilled with the season that the Swiss had: 2 major finals, one major semifinal, and four titles.
But also during that year, the Swiss crashed out to rising star Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open, was throttled by Nadal at Roland Garros, and then was defeated in what many argue is the greatest match of all-time by Nadal at Wimbledon. About a month later, he lost his #1 ranking to the Spaniard after nearly five consecutive years at the top of the game.
Then came the bright lights of New York. Federer brought a level of emotion that many had not seen from him in the past. His 4th round clash against Igor Andreev thrilled the night crowd at Flushing Meadows, but the fact that he was pushed so hard by the Russian was not impressive overall.
Federer went on to defeat Djokovic and Andy Murray in the semis and final consecutively, but at the time neither was anywhere near the level of play that they would reach in the years to come.
16. Wimbledon 2003
Seeds defeated: Roddick (5), Schalken (8)
Sets lost: 1
Where it all began. Federer’s first of eight triumphs at the All-England Club was momentous. The Swiss himself has, on multiple occasions, referenced it as one of the most memorable achievements of his decorated career.
He was absolutely, positively the best player at the tournament by a significant margin, but there was not much in the way of serious challengers in his way. American Andy Roddick likely offered the best chance at derailing Federer’s run to the title but was defeated in straight sets in the semifinals.
Other than Roddick, 8th-seed Sjeng Schalken offered the only seeded competition placed in front of Federer, and the triumph over Mark Philippoussis felt like a walk in the park. Federer dropped only one set throughout the tournament to Mardy Fish in the 3rd round.
If not for this being Federer’s first major title, it would probably warrant a lower spot on this list.
15. French Open 2009
Seeds defeated: Soderling (23), del Potro (5), Monfils (11), Mathieu (32)
Sets lost: 6
Well, this one might get a lot of disagreement, but hear me out before you X out the tab, scroll down to comment, or just assume that this might be “FAKE NEWS!”
It was an epic campaign for Federer, one of the most special second weeks of a major in history, and a truly spectacular occasion.
When Rafael Nadal was sent packing in the 4th round by Sweden’s Robin Soderling, the entire tennis world immediately pivoted from its shock about the result to the realization regarding the new reality of Roland Garros: If Federer was ever going to get his hands on the Musketeer’s Cup, it was now.
The next day, the Swiss was on the verge of blowing it. He was down two sets and breakpoint to Tommy Haas, but one clutch inside-out forehand started a 5 set comeback. Federer went on to defeat home favourite Gael Monfils in straight sets and then had to escape another deficit to Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals. His victory over Soderling in the final was clinical with the only drama stemming from a 2nd set tiebreak and a fan running on the court.
Overall, Federer defeated only one single-digit seed in the tournament and dropped six total sets including one each to Paul-Henri Mathieu and Jose Acasuso in the 3rd and 2nd rounds respectively.
14. Australian Open 2010
Seeds defeated: Murray (5), Tsonga (10), Davydenko (6), Hewitt (22), Montanes (31)
Sets lost: 2
In what can be marked as the end of Federer’s dominance – or even co-dominance with Nadal – over the world of men’s tennis (until now I suppose), the Swiss powered through several quality opponents, but avoided his fiercest rivals and looked vulnerable at times.
Strangely enough, this particular tournament started with Federer losing the opening set to Igor Andreev and not being far from going down two sets to 1 shortly after that. The Swiss was also thoroughly outplayed by Davydenko in the early stages of their quarterfinal before recovering and catching fire.
After that second set turnaround, Federer looked imperious for the rest of the fortnight, bludgeoning Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a signature performance in the semis. Andy Murray, while in his second major final, still seemed to be affected somewhat by nerves and Federer took advantage with a straight-sets triumph.
13. U.S. Open 2005
Seeds defeated: Agassi (7), Hewitt (3), Nalbandian (11), Rochus (27)
Sets lost: 3
In a tournament that is mostly remembered for the excitement surrounding Andre Agassi’s dream run to the final at age 35, Federer was a constant. By this point, he had won 4 of the last seven grand slam tournaments and was fully established as the best player in the world. Many were already touting him as being on an eventual path to surpass Sampras’ slam record.
The path to the final was impressive. Federer defeated four seeded opponents, three of whom were in the top-11. He took out 11-seed David Nalbandian in straight sets in the quarters before ousting 3rd seed Lleyton Hewitt in the semis and then ending the Agassi-American dream in the final.
12. Wimbledon 2009
Seeds defeated: Roddick (6), Haas (24), Karlovic (22), Soderling (13), Kohlschreiber (27)
Sets lost: 3
This was the one that put Federer alone at the top. After having fulfilled the career grand slam at Roland Garros less than a month earlier, the Swiss cracked Sampras’ record of 14 majors with his sixth Wimbledon title.
This is another tournament in which it’s hard to fault Federer for it perhaps not looking as impressive as some of his other runs to trophies. Although he defeated five seeded opponents, only one was in the top-10.
When Andy Roddick took out home favourite Andy Murray in the semifinals, many thought that the final would be a foregone conclusion given Federer’s dominance over the American throughout their careers. But an inspired Roddick surprisingly took the first set and was only broken once all afternoon. The American fumbled away a quartet of set points in the 2nd set tiebreaker that would have put him up two sets to none and missed two routine forehands on the final two points of the match.
11. U.S. Open 2006
Seeds defeated: Roddick (9), Davydenko (7), Blake (5)
Sets lost: 2
A solid campaign for Federer that cemented a trend during the middle part of the decade of him deflating home favourite hopes at the U.S. Open.
The Swiss defeated the top two American men’s players during the tournament’s second week including James Blake in the quarterfinals and Andy Roddick in a 4-set final. 7th-seed Nikolay Davydenko was beaten in between the two Americans in straight sets.
This was Federer at his absolute prime, blowing opponents off the court and launching forehands the likes of which many observers had never seen.
Sorry for the length of all of this rambling. I may be over-thinking all of this. Or, I’m sure many of you will think that I am under-thinking it. In any case, we’ll take a look at the rest of the list tomorrow! Numbers 10 – 1. What do you think was Federer’s most impressive grand slam win? Leave a comment below!