Roger Federer’s 300 weeks at No. 1 a tribute to greatness

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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 Federer has never retired in the middle of a match in his 14-year career — he’s played 1,066 — and has withdrawn from a tournament only twice.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.”

PHOTOS: All-time ATP No. 1s | Federer’s 17 Grand Slam titles | Federer vs. Nadal

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.”

Roger Federer Wimbledon no. 1

Roger Federer secured the No. 1 ranking by beating Andy Murray for his 17th career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. (Zumapress)

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.”

  • Published On Oct 16, 2012

    About 70 of Federer’s 302 total weeks as the No. 1 ranked played were accomplished while he had been performing his part-time 'job' as president of the ATP Player Council since mid 2008. This  article gives an idea of the distraction, stress, mental exhaustion and burden on Federer's time caused by this role -- which Federer's rivals do not have to deal with.


    Analysts note that Federer is not forced off the tour by ailments, he has never retired in the middle of a match in his career, and has withdrawn from only two active tournaments.


    But it's a myth that Federer is so physically resilient that he is not impacted by serious injury or illness that might force other players off the tour. Just because Roger rarely whines, and downplays and plays through his ailments, tennis commentators presume that he is unaffected by physical issues.


    In the past, Federer has been forced off the tour to heal injuries. In 2005, for example, Federer had to skip four Masters events throughout the year (Rome, Montreal, Madrid indoors, Paris indoors) as well as Basel in order to heal several injuries. Despite suffering torn ankle ligaments after Bangkok, Federer prematurely returned from injury on a bum ankle to defend his World Tour Finals title (Tennis Masters Cup) and to prevent Nadal from closing in on his No.1 ranking. Nadal withdrew from the event just hours before his first match.


    Federer’s efficient run to 300 weeks at No. 1 (including his unprecedented span of 237 consecutive weeks at No.1) hides the pain and ailments he has had to endure. In a rare admission, Federer said: “That's also part of a good player, being able to put that aside and just be able to still play good tennis.  And I promise you have I had a lot of pain throughout my career, and I've managed to play with it and you just go with it.”


    For example, Federer was sick (with undiagnosed mononucleosis) for several weeks before the 2008 Australian Open, which threw off his preparations for that major. After Federer arrived in Australia, things took a turn for the worse when he suffered acute food poisoning (stomach virus), which forced him to withdraw from his warm up Kooyong AAMI Classic exhibition event and further ruined his preparations. Even though Federer claimed he was 100% fit, local newspapers reported Federer looking sickly during practice. Withdrawal from the 2008 Australian Open was not an option: had Roger withdrawn due to his illness, Federer’s consecutive weeks at No.1 would have ended at 209 weeks as Rafael Nadal would have taken the No. 1 after the tournament ended. Pierre Paganini, Federer’s respected fitness and conditioning coach, explained later to the Swiss media that Federer had suffered six days of fever and diarrhea and lost three pounds of body weight "that would have put down every athlete." Under the circumstances, it was impressive that Federer even reached the semifinals of the Australian Open.


    Only after that Australian Open did the nature of Federer’s illness become clear with further testing. In 2008 “(Federer) battled his body from start to finish. A bout of mononucleosis in late 2007 had enlarged his spleen, ravaged his powers of recovery and ruined his off-season training; from the '08 Australian Open on, he played a step slow, which threw off his timing and sent his confidence tumbling. Yet Federer still made the Australian Open semifinals and the French Open final, labored back from two sets down to lose the longest Wimbledon final ever by the slimmest of margins, and won the U.S. Open -- Hall of Fame stuff for anyone else. "Federer was ill all season long, and the story was completely missed," Courier says. "He hid it from everybody because it's his responsibility to not show weakness, and he played through it because of his commitment to the tour. Which was a mistake.Mario Ancic [the Croatian once ranked No. 7] missed more than six months on the tour with a mono bout; it's a serious illness for a high-level performance athlete. Roger needed to get off the tour and get healthy again."


    Despite suffering mononucleosis, Federer chose to return to the tour to defend his titles and No.1 ranking. And that’s why Federer’s consecutive weeks No.1 record stands at 237 weeks, instead of 209 weeks or shortly after. That’s old school gutting it out. As Pierre Paganini later described: “(in 2008, Federer) lacked always two or three percent. Glandular fever is a really hard thing. And then the back pain came in the fall, that did not help either… But it was sensational, the way he fought through everything in 2008, even though he was limited. That limitation makes a big difference at this high level, and challenged him mentally to the extreme. 2008 was from the mental side one of his best years.”



    I am quite tired of the non-stop Federer worshippng on every tennis sit non-stop. Yes, he is (probably) the GOAT, but stlll, it all gets to be way too much. No wonder he has a huge ego.


    300 weeks at No.1 is three times as much as Borg's 109 weeks, Nadal's 102 weeks or Agassi's 101 weeks. 300 weeks is just 12 weeks shy of six full years. It's equivalent to 69 months or 50,400 hours or 3,024,000 minutes.


    Federer achieved his 300-plus weeks in only three periods as the No. 1 player (he lost the No.1 ranking only twice). Sampras required 11 separate periods to amass 286 weeks (he lost the No.1 ranking 11 times); Lendl 8 periods for 270 weeks; Connors 9 periods for 268 weeks; McEnroe 14 periods for 170 weeks; Borg 6 periods for 109 weeks.


    Jack Kramer is perhaps most qualified for assessing the greatest players in tennis history: "as someone who is better placed than most to analyze players through the ages, he is ready to anoint Roger Federer as the best he has seen. 'I thought Ellsworth Vines and Don Budge were pretty good,' he says. 'And Gonzalez and Hoad could play a bit, too, but I have never seen anyone play the game better than Federer. He serves well and has a great half-volley. I've never known anyone who can do as many things on a court as he can.' "  Kramer knows what he's talking about:  regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, Jack Kramer’s tour controlled the professional tennis circuit for 15 years (during which he recruited -- and often played against -- that golden era's greatest players such as Laver, Rosewall, Hoad, Sedgman, Trabert), he helped establish open tennis in 1968, designed the Grand Prix Circuit (framework of today's ATP World Tour), and helped found the ATP (and was its first executive director).


    The two cornerstones of tennis greatness are (a) length ranked No. 1 and (b) significant titles won (e.g., grand slams). Federer's 300 weeks at No.1 ends ill-informed debate about Nadal being greater than Roger. Even today -- with Nadal, Djokovic, Murray in their primes -- 31-year old Federer is the No.1 player due to his 12,165 ranking points. Nadal's career best was 12,400 points in 2010!  During his 300 weeks as No.1 player, Federer's win-loss was 417-52 (89% of 469 matches) with 46 titles -- in comparison, Nadal was 140-22 (86% of 162 matches) with 11 titles... and Djokovic was 63-13 (83% of 76 matches) with 4 titles. There's no comparison.


    Federer holds the Open Era record for not retiring in 1,066 matches played and only two withdrawals during active tournaments. The six players ahead of him in career matches played have all retired from matches and withdrawn from more matches than Federer (Edberg, McEnroe, Agassi, Vilas, Lendl, Connors). Federer needs to play just eight more matches to overtake Edberg and McEnroe for fifth place on total matches played in the open era.


    Nadal and Djokovic did not achieve their No. 1 rankings under the same strain and demands as Federer did. Over 55% of Federer's 469 matches while he was No.1 were played when tournament conditions were more physically demanding than it is today (e.g., see link). Between February 2004 to 2007 the No.1 Federer played 260 matches under these tougher conditions, including an incredible 97 matches in 2006. If not for the easing of tournament conditions in 2007 -- partly due to the vocal complaints of Nadal --  it's questionable whether Nadal, Djokovic and Murray would be able to sustain playing ‘attrition tennis’.


    - From 2004 to 2007, Federer had to play best-of-five-set finals in several non-grand slam tournaments (Tennis Masters Cup [World Tour Finals], Indian Wells Masters, Miami Masters, Monte Carlo Masters, Rome Masters, Madrid Masters [indoor hardcourt)], Gstaad, Basel, etc.). After 2007, best-of-five-set matches were completely eliminated from ATP tournaments.


    - From 2004 to 2006, Federer played several tournaments without first-round byes to top players, so he played an extra match in these events [e.g., Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg, Halle, Canada, Cincinnati, Bangkok, Gstaad]. This meant, in back-to-back Masters tournaments, playing six matches to win the first tournament on Sunday and then starting the first round of the next tournament two days later on Tuesday. Since 2007, more tournaments gave first round byes to top players.


    - Federer plays at a faster pace between his serving points, which means he has less time to recover and catch his breath than his slower playing rivals Nadal, Djokovic and Murray who routinely violate the time rules. For example, the Federer-Del Potro Olympic semifinal was three games longer and only three points shorter than the Nadal-Djokovic Australian Open final.


    It's questionable whether Nadal was "forced off the tour" because of the modern game's physical demands. Nadal continued to play unnecessary doubles matches at Halle, Indian Wells and Miami even though he claimed to be injured since February (see link). Nadal claimed he played with anti-inflammatories to get through the French Open, yet three days later Nadal played both doubles and singles at the non-mandatory, minor Halle tournament. As well, during the US Open, Nadal competed in a golf tournament. Nadal plays golf right-handed, which means his swings put greater strain on his ‘injured’ left knee. In any case, Nadal's 705 career matches is seventh most among active players (second-placed Hewitt and Haas have played just 76 matches more). Most of the six active players with more matches have had long surgery or injury layoffs (Hewitt, Haas, Ferrero, Davydenko) -- yet Nadal has not had one surgery in his career. Most players have retired or forced from the game due to injury long before reaching 705 matches.


    As a professional, Federer is subject to the same demands as any top pro sports team -- to finish the season as No. 1. In 1998, Pete Sampras (then coached by Paul Annacone) achieved his sixth year-end No.1 by doing the following after the US Open: skipping a winnable Davis Cup semifinal (which USA lost) and playing seven tournaments (Basel, Vienna, Lyon, Stuttgat, Paris, Stockholm, ATP Tour World Championship). Sampras finished just 245 points ahead of Marcelo Rios.


    At this stage, Federer should be the front runner in the race to finish No.1. Instead, Federer is in danger of falling just short of the year-end No.1  because of his decision to play Davis Cup (four ties/rounds, totaling 10 best-of-five set matches in the past 15 months as far away as Australia) as well as his deep run in the Olympics (marathon epic against Del Potro). The cost and consequence to the older Federer is that he had to sacrifice the Monte Carlo Masters, Canada Masters and Beijing (2,500 ranking points) as well as sacrifice some of his training. Having played Davis Cup on clay against Netherlands, Federer was unable to play Beijing for match practice and points.


    Both Federer and Djokovic have so far played 15 ATP tournaments. But because Djokovic (Murray and Nadal) was a Davis Cup truant this entire year, the Serb was able to maximize his ranking points by playing all nine Masters 1000 events this year -- he won 2,100 points from Monte Carlo Masters, Canada Masters and Beijing 500.

    Wisconsin Death Trip
    Wisconsin Death Trip

    FED never had to play the quality of players that the likes of Borg, Mac, or Jimmy Connors, plus many others. Every year he was up against 1 or 2 guys that might give him a run at it, not 6 or 7 like these guys did. OH, buy the way, he also didn't have to use a racket 1/3 of the size he uses now. What a joke. He's the best of his generation, and NOTHING MORE!



    Success is celebrated in sports. If reading about Federer's success affects a reader's huge ego, then use common sense: skip this article about Federer reaching one of tennis’s biggest milestones... or skip sports altogether since Federer is regarded as one of the greatest ever athletes in all sports.


    Only huge egos whine that their personal needs are more important than a significant sports story.


    People say something about themselves when they make ignorant claims such as "no wonder he has a huge ego" without knowing Federer. Those who actually know him -- and know what they're talking about -- say the opposite:

    - Jack Sock ''described Federer as a generous person, eager to learn about his tennis upbringing. “He’s incredibly humble”, said Sock. “Most of our conversations have been tennis-oriented, focusing on my training and history. He’s always interested in finding out more about me.'

    - 'Rod Laver, has suggested that, remarkably for a leading athlete, the Swiss "has no ego"... "Every time I speak to Roger, I sense no ego on his part," Laver, the Rockhampton Rocket, has written in Time, and Federer could certainly teach the average Premiership footballer a thing or two about how to avoid becoming another jumped-up, puffed-up prat... "The most impressive aspect of Roger's ascendancy to the top of the tennis world is the way he carries himself as a champion. It's quite unusual” '

    - James Blake: "He hasn't changed a bit. He hasn't been arrogant in the locker room. He never is. That's great to see someone that does it with class. He doesn't intentionally get in anyone's face. He doesn't put people down."

    - Pete Sampras: "I don't think Roger realises how good he is and what a great champion he is. That's what makes him so appealing, that he doesn't go around saying that he's a record-breaker, and instead he's humble and just goes out to play. I just like what Roger is all about, how he carries himself and how he goes about things."

    - Sachin Tendulkar: "Spent an hour with Roger Federer chatting on the balcony of Wimbledon Royal box. What a humble guy! And by the way he knows a lot about cricket!!"

    - Andy Roddick: "He's a real person. He's not an enigma. Off the court he's not trying to be somebody. If you met him at McDonald's and you didn't know who he was, you would have no idea that he's one of the best athletes in the world."


     @Michael9 Wow! That is all I can say man! A wonderful piece of writing by you and hell lot of great information I must say!

    Amit Kar
    Amit Kar

    @Wisconsin Death Trip Your comment belies a serious ignorance of tennis and what it means to compete at the very highest level. Other posters here have already done a good job of your ripping your ridiculous argument to pieces as far as Federer's unassailable record is concerned. So I'll just address the little issue of the racket. Federer uses essentially the same racket that Sampras used. Fed's is now 90 sq inches instead of the 88 sq inches but in any case it is a much smaller racket head than almost all other players on tour and just as small as those used by some of the past greats you mentioned. I think Agassi's racket was bigger and latterly Connors used a bigger one also. I imagine you don't play much tennis but if you did you'd find Federer's racket almost unusable; it is too small and too heavy for anyone but top, top players to use. If any of the current crop of top professionals could actually play and succeed in the old days using the old rackets it is Federer.



     @Wisconsin Death Trip     The facts don't support your claims.


    - Federer has played and beaten, by far, the most top ten players in the open era. Federer played 237 (22.2%) of his 1,066 career matches against top ten players (winning 158 top ten matches). Borg played only 95 (12.9%) of his 733 matches against top ten players (winning 67). McEnroe played just 149 (13.9%) of his 1,073 matches against top ten players (winning just 85). Connors played just 167 (11.3%) of his 1,479 matches against top ten players (winning just 84). Borg faced less top ten players than Djokovic, Nadal and Murray did at the same age! In this link, just click on the 'Win' in 'Career Win-Loss'.


    - usable.thought made a good point: most experts agree that competition today is much deeper than in the past, meaning that Federer faced relatively tougher players in the early rounds of tournaments than Borg, McEnroe and Connor did. Every generation tends to improve and become tougher than the previous generation.


    - What "6 of 7" guys gave Borg, McEnroe and Connors "a run at it"? See link: Federer's era had about as many winning players as Borg, McEnroe and Connors had in their longer era (there is an eight year difference in age between Connor and McEnroe: Connors was born in 1952, Borg in 1956, McEnroe in 1959). However, Federer was simply better at winning the big titles and being No.1 compared to Borg, McEnroe and Connors in their longer era. For example, Federer won his first four slams (57%) fom a span of seven slam opportunities before Nadal won his first slam (2005 French Open); after Nadal's first slam, Federer won his next four slams (80%) from a span of five slam oportunities (the same for Federer's next four slam titles after that) . Borg, McEnroe and Connors allowed other players to take 18 slams during the 11 years they won their 26 slams between 1974 and 1984: John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe, Manuel Orantes, Mark Edmonson, Adriano Panatta, Roscoe Tanner, Vitas Gerulaitis, Guillermo Vilas (4), Brian Teacher, Johan Kriek (2), Yannick Noah, Mats Wilander (3), Ivan Lendl. In comparison, in the 9.5 years since Federer's 2003 Wimbledon, only four other players have won slams other than Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray (i.e., Roddick, Gudio, Safin, Del Potro).


    - Borg, McEnroe and Connors did not play with smaller racket heads than their rivals used. Their 'initial' rackets had similar head sizes (Donnay, Dunlop Maxply Fort, Wilson T2000). On the other hand, Federer plays with a smaller 90" head while his rivals Nadal, Djokovic and Murray play with 98" to 100" racket heads! The great Ken Rosewall concluded: "I think you can't deny the ability of the players today and obviously you would put Roger (Federer) at the top of those players. I believe the players of days-gone-by would find it very, very difficult to compete against the players of today even with this new equipment."But, on the other hand, if you gave Roger Federer the old wooden racquets we used, I think he would still be very, very good. I would say the level of his play at the moment is at the highest standard you could hope to get." Rosewall would probably be the grand slam king with 17 to 18 slams had tennis been open throughout his career,


     @Wisconsin Death Trip That's an interesting perspective you gave, given that most tennis analysts, including those of the elder generation, say that the depth of the sport has grown, not shrunk, as the Open Era has progressed. I.e. with far more players competing from far more countries for far more prize money, it's harder, not easier, to win majors, achieve the #1 ranking, etc.