• What the Deuce

Federer motors past another two milestones

Jo Carter October 26, 2010
Roger Federer equalled Pete Sampras' 64 career titles in Stockholm © Getty Images

They say the mark of a true champion is the ability to grind out results despite not being at your best.

In the week that Federer marked his 900th ATP Tour match, he claimed his third title of 2010 at the Stockholm Open to win his 64th career title - matching Pete Sampras' haul. Only Jimmy Connors (107), Ivan Lendl (94) and John McEnroe (77) have won more titles.

Of his 903 matches, Federer has won 730 - an impressive winning ratio of 78%. He is some way short of Connors' record of 1519 matches, and if he were to continue his current rate he would have to play until he was nearly 40 to break that particular record.

Federer would be the first to admit it hasn't been his best season. And it started so well - he produced one of the performances of his career to deny Andy Murray his maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne. But the two best players in the world in January were to suffer a similar fate - both Murray and Federer failed to win a title between them until August.

And yet despite his leanest season since 2002, Federer continues to cement his place in the history books. Already considered one of the game's greatest player for his 16 grand slam titles and his career Grand Slam at the 2009 French Open, Federer is still notching up the records - despite a less-than-inspirational season.

Federer's final defeat to Murray at the Shanghai Masters saw him leapfrog Novak Djokovic to be restored as world No. 2, but it makes no difference to the 16-time Grand Slam champion.

"It's not that important to be two, three or four," Federer said last week. "For me it's either No. 1 in the world or everything else."

He is agonisingly one week short of Sampras' record of 286 weeks spent at world No. 1. But with Nadal having scooped seven titles in 2010, including three grand slams, Federer faces a mountain to climb with 4385 points between him and the No. 1 spot.

The ebb and flow of men's tennis, and the exhaustingly-long 11-month season, dictates that no man, not even Federer can maintain total dominance over a single season.

Federer is no longer the dominant force he once was © Getty Images

This is no more obvious than in the fact that no man has ever won all four grand slam titles in a single year. Even Federer, who has never retired from a match in his career and has never missed a grand slam in eleven years, has never held all four slams at once.

Having won 11 majors in four years between 2004 and 2007, Federer's record is as close to dominance as any man has got in recent years. But his record against Nadal - only seven victories in 21 meetings - is the sole blot on his copybook. Depending on how many more grand slams the Spaniard goes on to win will determine just how critical that particular statistic really is.

It is likely that Federer will never get a chance to rectify that particular record, but he will comfort himself with his 23 consecutive grand slam semi-finals, and focus on his 208 grand slam match wins - just 25 short of Connors' record of 233 - another attainable milestone.

How many more records can he chase down? For a player who spent 237 consecutive weeks as world No. 1 and finished the year as the top-ranked men's player five times in six years, an Olympic gold medal - a singles one that is - must be high on his agenda.

His surprise exit at the second-round stage in Athens at the hands of none other than Tomas Berdych - now world No. 6 but at the time a lowly No. 74 and the man who denied him an eighth consecutive final appearance at Wimbledon this year. And having fallen to James Blake in Beijing, Federer will be desperate to atone for his errors in London.

While there are four grand slams a year, the Olympics only come round once every four years, and having thrown away two chances to cap a Golden Slam, London 2012 - where he will turn 31, could be his last chance.

Critics argue that with his trophy cabinet filled to bursting point, the father of twins no longer has the same drive he once had. Federer's attendance on the tour has begun to wane and he makes no secret that he gears his schedule around peaking at the four majors, but with another few records tantalisingly within his grasp, there is little sign of the great Swiss letting up just yet.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk