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The world has had a chance to gather its composure following a weekend which saw the collective tennis community weep uncontrollably at the sight of Roger Federer crying in his retirement celebration at the Laver Cup.

Roger cried, Rafa cried, Mirka and the kids cried and even Novak Djokovic got emotional as the end of an era dawned on the sport, one of the most important eras in its history.

Federer changed the way the sport was played, and in turn brought forth the dynasty of the Big Three, or Big Four with Andy Murray’s eventual ascendancy to number one.

He overcame the greats of his youth, beat down his peers and continued to the dominate generations to come over the course of his 24 years on tour.

There were 1,251 match wins, 20 Grand Slams and 103 singles titles, so to narrow down a few of his best is nigh on impossible but here are this writer’s five most pivotal victories of Roger Federer’s career.

2001 – Wimbledon R16 – Federer def. Sampras 7-6 5-7 6-4 6-7 7-5

Pete Sampras was a then 13-time major winner and had conquered Wimbledon in seven of the eight years leading up to 2001 with only one loss since 1992.

Federer was fresh off his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros and was the Wimbledon junior champion three years prior, it was the legend versus the up and comer.

The young Swiss man took a tense opening set in a tiebreak before Sampras claimed a decisive break late in the second to square proceedings.

Still yet to turn 20, Federer looked as though he belonged on the big stage with his panache and flare dazzling the grass in which he would dominate for the next two decades.

He would claim the third before the legendary American again levelled the contest to force a decider.

Already a classic, Federer ensured that it would be a memorable one, breaking the flawless Sampras serve late in the piece on his way to one of the all-time great wins.

The teenager would lose a tight four setter to Tim Henman in the quarterfinals, but with the win over Sampras he proved that the changing of the guard had begun.

2003 – Wimbledon F – Federer def. Philippoussis 7-6 6-2 7-6

The day had arrived, Roger Federer was in his maiden Grand Slam final against a man who had been there once before in Australia’s Mark Philippoussis.

In 1998 the Victorian fell to Pat Rafter in the US Open final, but at that same event Federer suffered a similar heartbreak in the Boy’s Singles, overcome by Argentina’s David Nalbandian 6-3 7-5.

The 21-year-old had dropped just one set to Mardy Fish in the third round, who recently admitted on social media that he thought he was a strong chance against Federer leading in.

“What are your favourite Roger Federer moments? I’ll start,” Fish quipped on Twitter.

“2003 Wimbledon, 3rd Rd I play this Federer guy. Called a friend after my 2nd Rd win and said ‘I think I’ve got a great draw now. I don’t think this guy is all that great!’

“Got crushed and he won the tournament.”

Like his match against Sampras two years prior, Federer would take the first set in a tiebreak, but the second set would be much more routine as he broke the Australian’s serve twice en route to a commanding lead.

The third would again head to a breaker but it was never in doubt for Federer, who would fall to his knees and hoist a major trophy over his head for the first time, with 19 more on the way.

This win paved the way for one of his more dominant years in the sport in 2004, where he would ascend to world number one, claim three Slams and a whopping 11 titles in total.

2007 – Hamburg F – Federer def. Nadal 2-6 6-2 6-0

Rafael Nadal had not lost on clay since Igor Andreev defeated him in Valencia at the beginning of April in 2005.

It was now May of 2007, and the Spaniard was on an 81-match winning streak on the red dirt including five over Federer, one of which was the 2006 French Open final, the first Grand Slam final that the Swiss Maestro ever lost.

The trend appeared to be continuing in Germany, as Nadal raced away in the opening set to take it comfortably.

Federer’s kryptonite was again on show with his great rival’s left-handed forehand generating heavy top spin to his one-handed backhand, making it difficult to make any inroads into Nadal’s game.

However, the 25-year-old found his range using aggression and touch to unravel his opponent, racing through the final two sets with the loss of just two games, even handing out a bagel in the final set, the only time he would achieve the feat against the Spaniard on the surface.

It showed that Federer had what it took to defeat Nadal on clay, however it would only happen on just one other occasion in Madrid two years later.

Nadal would overcome Federer in four Roland Garros finals in total, and 14 times on clay overall.

2009 – Roland Garros R16 – Federer def. Haas 6-7 5-7 6-4 6-0 6-2

Many discuss Federer’s victory over Robin Soderling in the 2009 Roland Garros final as the main victory of the event, which is fair enough as it was where he sealed the Career Slam and finally lifted La Coupe des Mousquetaires, but it almost never eventuated.

The Swede Soderling made history in the fourth round as the first of only two players to inflict defeat on Rafael Nadal at the French Open, and many quickly jumped to the conclusion that Federer had the event in the bag.

The next day, a 27-year-old Federer came up against Germany’s Tommy Haas, a devastating player at his best who had been continuously plagued by injury.

Haas had already beaten Federer twice, in the semifinal of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and in five at the 2002 Australian Open.

The German also pushed the Swiss star to five at the 2006 Australian Open, an event which he would win in a year where he was virtually unbeatable.

Even though he railed the head-to-head 2-8, Haas displayed an abundance of confidence as he stunned the crowd to take a two sets to love lead.

The French patrons were stunned, could both Roger and Rafa fall in consecutive days before the quarterfinals?

Haas almost had one foot in the final eight in Paris for the first time in his career as Federer pushed a forehand wide and long to give the German a break point at 4-3 ahead in the third stanza.

It got even more tense as the second seed missed his first serve, but it took just one forehand stroke to save the break point as a wonderfully timed off forehand cannoned past the German, now one of the most famous shots in Federer’s career.

Haas would only claim two more games for the rest of the match as Federer gained the momentum and raced to the quarterfinals.

Before he would win the title, he would have to fight through his semifinal with Juan Martin del Potro by again coming from behind to win in five.

The 2009 French Open would serve up a plethora of narratives for Federer, and it will go down as one of the finest fortnights of his glittering career.

2017 – Australian Open F – Federer def. Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3

It was the final that nobody saw coming, and it is quite literally the case.

Federer had not played since his 2016 Wimbledon semifinal loss to Milos Raonic due to knee surgery, and Nadal had not played since Shanghai with a wrist injury.

Seeded 17th and 9th respectively, both were seemingly taking a back seat to what was going to be the Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray show as the two were set to resume their battle for the number one ranking.

That’s when the shockwave began, as Djokovic suffered a stunning five set defeat at the hands of Denis Istomin in the second round, and Murray a four set loss to Mischa Zverev in round four.

Federer himself would be pushed to five in the fourth round by Kei Nishikori, and again in the semis by compatriot Stan Wawrinka as he progressed to the unlikeliest of major finals and first at Melbourne Park in seven years.

Nadal had also been tested throughout the event, with a young Alexander Zverev taking him the distance in the third round before he emerged victorious in an epic semi with Grigor Dimitrov to set up the first ‘Fedal’ Grand Slam final since Roland Garros in 2011, and what turned out to be the last.

Before the match, the key for Federer was always going to be his aggression and taking the points away from Nadal, like he did in their most recent meeting in Basel at the end of 2015.

That is exactly what he did, dominating the opening set and gaining the early ascendancy, but the Spaniard was not to be denied, zoning in with power and precision of his own to take the second.

The pair would trade blows in sets three and four, with Federer the dominant in the third and Nadal the fourth.

The Rod Laver Arena crowd was already on its feet with jubilation and admiration for the two combatants, who were winding back the clock with their first five set thriller since the epic 2009 final in Australia.

The Spaniard had seemingly dashed Federer’s hopes yet again as he stormed to a 3-1 lead before the 35-year-old used his brute power and devastating finesse to get back on serve and take a 4-3 lead.

Then came THAT rally, where at deuce on Nadal’s serve the two old rivals would engage in a game of cat and mouse that ended with Federer slapping a forehand winner down the line, leaving the world in awe.

It led to commentator Mark Petchey’s famous line, “I will never, ever forget that rally.”

Rob Koenig chimed in with, “Jaw dropping stuff from both players, red lining their game.”

Jaw dropping it was, as it proved pivotal for Federer to break serve and save two break points of his own in the very next game as he closed out the title and won his 18th Grand Slam.

It was his first since Wimbledon in 2012 but arguably one of the sweetest, as most had written him off to ever reach these lofty heights again.

He would do so on two more occasions, at Wimbledon later that year and then again at the 2018 Australian Open.

Honourable mentions

There are many honourable mentions that could have made the top five, one of them being that 2012 Wimbledon final where he defeated Andy Murray and returned to the number one ranking, usurping Djokovic and Nadal.

His 2011 Roland Garros semifinal win over Djokovic is another, as he ended the Serbian’s 41-match winning streak to commence the year.

2017 saw him win an epic over Nick Kyrgios in Miami, it took three sets and three tiebreaks but Federer was able to prevail in a match where not many others would have.

Fast forward to Melbourne Park in 2020, where he would save a monumental seven match points against Tennys Sangdren to overcome the American in five, with the tennis world finding out that he won it on one leg.

Finally, his win over Frenchman Julien Boutter in the Milan final in 2001, the first of his 103 career titles.

While we have seen the last of him competitively, these matches and his legacy will live on as new generations will emerge and continue to be in awe of his highlights and the magic that has been Roger Federer.


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