By James Crabtree
What if there had been no Roger Federer?
Ever since the defeat of Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 Roger Federer has been in the spotlight. Two years after this emphatic victory he claimed his first grand slam over Mark Philippoussis. Since then we have witnessed almost ten years of the greatest tennis onslaught in memory, by a master craftsman employing an effortless classical style.
Simply put, Federer has ruined a lot of parties from Sampras and Safin to Hewitt and Haas to Roddick, Nadal and Murray.
But what if there had been no Federer?
Rewind back to Wimbledon 2003 and you find a draw that looked pretty open. Defending champion and number one seed Lleyton Hewitt had lost in the first round to qualifier Ivo Karlovic. Andre Agassi and Juan Carlos Ferrero, the other top seeds, had both lost in the fourth round. Federer went on to beat Andy Roddick in the semi and then Mark Philippoussis in the final. If he hadn’t been there would Andy Roddick have claimed a Wimby title? Or would Mark Philippoussis be sitting back on a beach somewhere now, enjoying the star status that comes with being Wimbledon champion? And would ‘The Scud’ have ever needed to do a stint on reality TV?
The dominance exhibited between 2004 and 2008 was purely brutal with Federer collecting eleven of sixteen possible slams. Lleyton Hewitt was denied the momentum needed for more success. The twilight of Andre Agassi’s career missed a fairy-tale finale whilst Andy Roddick beared the brunt of Swiss aggression losing in five slams during this time, with enough nightmares to last a last time.
During that time Gastón Gaudio won his French Open crown, Marat Safin collected his Aussie title and Rafael Nadal started his incredible clay run that has not stopped. Andre Agassi, Tommy Haas and Rafael Nadal have been the only players to really challenge Federer outside the French, having both pushed him to five sets at the 2004 U.S. Open, 2006 Australian Open and 2007 Wimbledon Championships respectively.
Arguably, during those years Rafael Nadal could have proved he was more than just a clay specialist a whole lot earlier. Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando González both made finals appearances as lower seeds during this time, and it’s not unreasonable to believe that if they were in a different era they could have collected a slam, as Thomas Johansson or Petr Korda did in Australia years prior.
In 2009 when Federer completed the career grand slam with his French Open win, he managed to thwart the considerable efforts of Del Potro, Haas and Soderling along the way. Andy Murray could have saved himself a few years of hurt. As recently as Wimbledon 2012 Julian Benneteau stretched the great Swiss to five sets, but to no more avail than a little praise and a pat on the back. Beat him and add to your place amongst the Gods, lose and become lost within the Federer chronicle.
True, Federer has been less greedy in more recent years. And we have seen Djokovic and Nadal both take their turns atop the tennis Empire, each managing to collect three slams out of four in a season. Meanwhile Federer has continued to play havoc with familiar foes, most notable Murray and the recently retired Roddick. However it must be noted, with Nadal injured and Novak appearing mortal, it’s hard to imagine that Federer won’t still spoil a few more parties yet.