As contemporaries Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal continue to plunder his records, Roger Federer may be forced to rethink his tennis exit strategy.
When the 39-year-old does decide it’s time hang up the racquet, the adored Swiss legend will retire as the greatest player of all-time in the eyes of many.
But the fact he’s now “bronze medal favourite” in the legacy debate from a pure numbers standpoint was discussed on a recent episode of The Tennis Podcast.
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Federer, battling a knee, injury has been the least active of the big three in a pandemic-disrupted 2020. Nadal matched his haul of 20 grand slams at the French Open is favoured to claim the outright record next year, while Djokovic is closing on the pair with 17.
Another of Federer’s greatest records — most weeks spent as world No.1 (310) — is in Djokovic’s sights early next year.
Federer has spoken of his reluctance to play without crowds but with 2021 shaping up as another restricted season tennis analyst Catherine Whitaker said the Swiss star had some “big decisions to make”.
With it looking increasingly unlikely he’ll be able to add to his majors tally, that could mean Federer shifting his focus to one of the most remarkable records in tennis and perhaps the only point of difference he‘ll be able to find over Nadal and Djokovic — American Jimmy Connors’ mark of 109 ATP titles.
“The only really significant record that Federer can go for that the other two are very unlikely to get … is the all-time titles currently held by Jimmy Connors,” Whitaker said.
“Federer’s got 103, Nadal 84 and Djokovic 77. It’s possible they could chase him down but I think pretty unlikely.
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“Look, seven titles to overtake Jimmy Connors is absolutely not a given, but I think as he (Federer) nears it, given the stage of his career, that will be the one that we’ll see him hunt down.
“Because I think it could end up being the only record of significance that he has next to his name when all is said and done.”
While the coronavirus has robbed an ageing Federer of valuable time to add to his title collection, Whitaker suggested a pursuit of the Connors record could even see the legend add some far-flung stops to his schedule next season.
“Could you imagine if we see him entering a behind-closed-doors Sofia this time next year. If he thinks ‘right, my exit strategy is …just forget it, I’ll just go for that 110 titles’, Sofia here I come.”
Co-hosts David Law and Matt Roberts questioned whether Federer would be interested in playing in lower-tier events but the former admitted: “I think’s a surprise to even him that — he’s 40 next year — and he’s still able to contemplate winning titles. Maybe it (that record) will become more important to him.”
Federer’s latest numbers setback came in Monday’s release of the ATP rankings as he dropped down to No.5 for the first time since early 2019 — rising Russian Daniil Medvedev moving ahead of him courtesy of a first title of the year in the Paris Masters.
Novak Djokovic has already clinched the year-end number one ranking for the sixth time as he heads into the ATP Masters starting at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday.
ATP rankings (change in brackets)
1. Novak Djokovic (SRB) 11830 pts 2. Rafael Nadal (ESP) 9850 3. Dominic Thiem (AUT) 9125 4. Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 6970 (+1) 5. Roger Federer (SUI) 6630 (-1) 6. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 5925 7. Alexander Zverev (GER) 5525 8. Andrey Rublev (RUS) 3919 9. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 3455 10. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 3075 11. Gael Monfils (FRA) 2860 12. Denis Shapovalov (CAN) 2830 13. Roberto Bautista (ESP) 2710 14. Milos Raonic (CAN) 2580 (+3) 15. David Goffin (BEL) 2555 (-1) 16. Pablo Carreno (ESP) 2535 (-1) 17. Fabio Fognini (ITA) 2400 (-1) 18. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 2320 (+2) 19. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 2260 (-1) 20. Karen Khachanov (RUS) 2245 (-1)