December 23, 2020
Roger Federer has just achieved something truly remarkable. And the world of professional sport has probably never seen something so enduring.
Inevitably, Federer is starting to see his records equalled and even surpassed. But there’s one record that will surely never be beaten.
It’s hard to imagine anyone ever being loved quite as much as Roger, who is currently training in Dubai before one last competitive push in 2021.
How do you measure love? Well, thankfully tennis has found a way.
Federer has just been voted ATP Fans’ Favourite for the eighteenth consecutive year.
Yes, you read that right. Roger has been the most loved tennis player on the planet for eighteen years now.
Just think about that for a second. A man who has barely been able to play meaningful tennis in 2020 has nevertheless remained closest to our hearts.
And his love affair with the fans stretches back towards the start of the millennium.
To maintain that level of love among tennis followers worldwide, you have to possess something very special.
More than talent. More than trophies. Something unique.
Sure, you must prove yourself on court. You must be a winner by nature.
But Federer has displayed far more than a winning habit and a fine technique.
Perhaps two small words best encapsulate Federer. Class and grace.
He displays an effortless respect while interacting with others off court.
When he met this correspondent’s awe-struck young son, for example, he offered a hand and said with an easy smile: “Hello. Are you a tennis player too?”
And that same effortlessness is seen on court, too. He glides like a dancer. His balance and poise are simply extraordinary.
No disrespect to the other greats. But they aren’t quite as beautiful to watch.
Rafael Nadal is otherwise just as admirable in many ways. And he has just won the ATP’s award for sportsmanship yet again.
He too conducts himself impeccably. Nadal wins like a warrior and loses like a gentleman.
Rafa tells us that he wants to be remembered for the kind of person he was, more than the number of trophies he collected.
That doesn’t stop him collecting trophies, of course, particularly at Roland Garros.
And it’s only fair to point out that 2020 saw Nadal equal Federer for Grand Slam singles titles.
How perfectly fitting, in this challenging year, that the two all-time-greats are now 20-20 for our sport’s biggest prizes.
The ATP was also quick to salute the man who may well eclipse both his rivals when the Big Three’s final trophy-count is conducted.
Novak Djokovic is hot on the heels of Roger and Rafa. He is also world number one.
And he just notched a total of 300 weeks at the summit of our beautiful sport.
He is surely about to beat Roger’s record of 310, though he will never eclipse Federer’s record of 237 consecutive weeks.
No matter. Novak has displayed tremendous personal qualities to achieve his dominance in a career that’s far from over.
For cool ruthlessness when all seems lost, Djokovic is simply unparalleled.
We saw that again in last year’s epic Wimbledon final.
Like the others, he has also done plenty for disadvantaged people away from the game.
In fact, each of the Big Three can be celebrated in his own inimitable way.
But there’s only one Roger Federer. And it’s Federer, above all, who will command our love and attention at Wimbledon 2021.
That’s no disrespect to the great Serena Williams, who is also very likely to be playing her last Championships at the All England Club.
And we haven’t forgotten how much Andy Murray is loved and revered for what he has been through and overcome on the lawns of Wimbledon, through victory and defeat.
Sir Andy’s tears and humour over the years have been surpassed only by his sheer determination to play Wimbledon one last time.
All these factors mean that Murray, too, will bring the house down at Wimbledon 2021.
But even Murray, who just beat fellow Brits Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie in London, can’t compete with Federer when it comes to universal appeal.
Neither can his brother Jamie, even though the elder Murray brother has been voted Fans’ Favourite in the doubles this year, along with Neal Skupski.
It’s a partiuclarly fitting bit of recognition for Jamie, who kept British tennis going with his innovative tournaments when we were all at our lowest ebb.
But Roger Federer’s rivals for our love are mere mortals.
None of his contemporaries, not even the truly exceptional among them, could have won ATP Fans’ Favourite for 18 consecutive years.
There’s something special about Roger. The dignity. The diplomacy. The aura.
Even after he retires, you wouldn’t bet against Federer extending his reign as Fans’ Favourite.
An eighteen-year love affair is hard to extinguish.
So let’s raise a seasonal glass to Roger Federer. We salute your taste, tennis fans, and wish you a very Merry Christmas.
We predict an increasingly bright and happy New Year as the months go by.
And we can’t put into words how much we look forward to seeing Federer at Wimbledon 2021.
Just imagine the reception he will receive. Imagine the love on Centre Court for Wimbledon’s king.
Who on earth would want to miss that?