MELBOURNE: Roger Federer’s fans call him the Greatest Of All Time but after defeat at the Australian Open his hold on the men’s record for career Grand Slam titles is growing ever weaker.
When Federer walked gingerly off Rod Laver Arena on Thursday after his injury-hit semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic, he will have been acutely aware that at 38 time is running out to add to his 20 Major wins.
Rafael Nadal, 33, stands on 19 Grand Slam titles and is the favorite to reach 20 at the French Open in May-June — a tournament where he has only lost three times.
Djokovic, 32, has 16 Major trophies and is going for an eighth Australian Open title on Sunday. He shows no signs of slowing down after winning four Grand Slams in the past two years.
Federer will be closing on his 39th birthday by the time Roland Garros and Wimbledon roll around — nearly two years older than Ken Rosewall when he became the oldest Grand Slam champion at 37 at the 1972 Australian Open.
Federer’s last Grand Slam title came at the Australian Open two years ago.
So while Federer may still wield the sweetest backhand in the game, in the fullness of time it could be his elegant style rather than his record that sets him apart from his peers.
However, the Swiss is not going without a fight and as the years advance, his resilience, if anything, is increasing.
Federer pulled off two breathtaking escapes in the earlier rounds in Melbourne. He was two points from defeat to John Millman and saved seven match points against Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals.
After a groin strain in the Sandgren match, rumors swirled that Federer may not even take the court against Djokovic. He admitted that by playing he was risking the first retirement in his 1,513-match career.
“Today was horrible, to go through what I did,” Federer grimaced after Djokovic’s 7-6 (7/1), 6-4, 6-3 win.
“Nice entrance, nice send-off, and in between is one to forget because you know you have a three percent chance to win.”