Roger Federer is indisputably the greatest player of all time in men’s tennis. His record of winning 20 Grand Slams is unlikely to be ever broken. More importantly, most of the fellow greats of tennis have lauded him to be the greatest tennis player of all time.
Federer has won 8 Wimbledons, 6 Australian Opens, 5 US Opens and a solitary French Open title. He has won more Wimbledon titles than any other player in the history of tennis. Therefore, it is quite evident that grass is his most preferred playing surface.
The 36-year-old Federer is into his 20th year in the tennis circuit and has won 97 singles titles overall. He has also won a whopping 82% of the matches he has played in his career. Those stats are mind-boggling, but one has to delve deeper into his game to understand what made him stand head and shoulders above his opponents.
We would take a look at the 5 qualities which made Federer the greatest player of all time:
#1 No major weakness
Federer has no major weakness in his game. There is almost nothing that he cannot do on a tennis court. Almost all other tennis greats have their share of weaknesses. For example, Rafael Nadal is not very comfortable going to the net, Novak Djokovic does not have very good drop shots, and Pete Sampras could not control the game from the baseline. However, Federer is comfortable doing all the above things and more.
Federer has won almost 89% of the service games in his career which is only a tad behind Ivo Karlovic’s all-time record of 92%, whereas, his record of winning almost 27% of his return games is not far behind Guillermo Coria’s all-time record of 35%. Those figures show the completeness of Federer’s game.
Moreover, Federer has won more than 75% of the matches he has played on clay, his least favorite surface. He has also won 83% of his matches played on hard courts and 87% of the ones played on grass. No other tennis player can boast of such consistency across different surfaces. Federer could achieve this consistency because his game is devoid of any major weakness.
The only apparent drawback in his game is the absence of a double-handed backhand but Federer makes up for it with an amazing single-handed one. Therefore, his opponents fail to find any shortcoming in his game.
#2 Ability to elevate the quality of his serve at crucial moments
Federer is not a big server like Goran Ivanisevic or John Isner, nor does he possess a serve as perfect as Pete Sampras’s either. He has the ability to elevate the quality of his serve according to the demand of the situation
An example could be the match against Marin Cilic in the Final of Australian Open 2018. In the 4th set, Cilic broke Federer’s serve twice to win the set and make it 2-2. Federer’s first serve percentage dropped to a meager 36% in the 4th set. However, in the 5th set, Federer took his serve to another level and did not give Cilic the slightest chance of causing a break. His first serve percentage rose to 61% in the 5th set. As a result, he comfortably took the set and won the match. Federer has a career first serve ratio of 62%. He has also been able to save 67% break points off his serve. Moreover, he is second only to Ivo Karlovic in the all-time list for hitting aces. Those records show that like a true champion, Federer possesses the inherent quality of being able to improve his game when the situation calls for it.
#3 The greatest forehand of all time
Federer unquestionably boasts of the greatest forehand ever seen in men’s tennis. His forehands are not as powerful as those of somebody like Juan Martin Del Potro, nor are they full of vicious top-spin like those of Rafael Nadal, but they are second to none in terms of effectiveness and sheer beauty. Pete Sampras has rightly termed Federer’s forehand as the best shot in tennis in the last 10 years.
Federer caresses the ball like an artist and subsequently, the court gets painted with immaculate strokes. He can also alter the speed and trajectory of his strokes, thereby making things even more difficult for his opponents. He outplayed Rafael Nadal in the final of 2017 Australian Open with the help of his outstanding forehands. Federer hit a very impressive 53 groundstroke winners in that match and most of them came through his fearsome forehand.
#4 Ability to change his game according to the strength of his opponent
In spite of being a superb grass-court player, Federer has the ability to control the rallies from the baseline. In the 2007 Wimbledon final against Nadal, he demonstrated this ability instead of coming to the net frequently. He was wary of Nadal’s awesome passing shots and preferred to stay on the baseline for most of the match.
As a result, Nadal, the clay-court specialist, could not win too many points with his passing shots and had to toil harder to get accustomed to the pace and bounce of the grass-court. He could hit only 16 winners in the last 2 sets of the match and finished runner-up.
Again, in the US Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic in 2008, Federer played some timely drop shots to drag Djokovic to the net, thereby not allowing him to continue hitting those ferocious groundstrokes from the baseline. As a result, Djokovic’s rhythm was disrupted and he lost the match. This ability to improvise separates Federer from the rest and makes him such a formidable opponent in all surfaces.
#5 Ability to stay cool
Like all great champions, Federer has the ability to absorb pressure and stay unmoved. He does not ooze intensity like Nadal, neither is he as mechanical in his approach as Djokovic. Federer is genial and unassuming and that is why he is able to relax and unwind at times. This is also the reason why he has been able to maintain his winning streak at the age of 36. His ability to stay unaffected is the secret of his longevity as a player. Federer has had troughs in his career and gone through spells during which even his staunchest admirers started doubting his abilities. However, he has been able to bounce back from those lean patches. His cool demeanor helped him immensely in doing that.