LONDON: Here’s a way to look at what Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the now-retired Roger Federer have accomplished: The group known as the Big Three of men’s tennis have amassed so many Grand Slam titles – 63 in total – that it seems unlikely that anyone will achieve the standards they set.
Certainly not anytime soon.
Here was a different way of thinking about things as the professional level of the sport began its post-Federer life on Saturday after the last game of his career: what he and the other two members of this respected trio, along with Serena Williams, accomplished with Us had to show that it’s possible to dominate for decades, not just years.
And the 41-year-old Federer believes, on the one hand, that aspiring players can learn from the way he and the others of his time dealt with it, their confidence and attitude to setting goals for their training and diet and other methods of ensuring longevity.
He laughed as he shared a conversation with Bjorn Borg, Team Europe captain at the Laver Cup, about what life was like back then when he won his 11 major championships from 1974 to 1981 before retiring in his 20s . During an interview with The Associated Press this week, Federer recalled a conversation where Borg discussed having a weekly massage and perhaps the occasional hot bath during his time on tour.
Federer’s massage routine over his quarter century as a player?
“Probably every day. Sometimes they got tired of me, so I said, ‘Can we skip a day today?’ You know what I mean? I won’t miss them. I mean I loved my massages from time to time but come on; Number 1,423 becomes a bit like, “Jesus. I’d rather do something else,'” Federer said, then added through a confident grin: “Grinding at a high level here.”
When Pete Sampras won the US Open in his last match in 2002, he collected his 14th Slam trophy, two more than any other man in tennis history up to that point. In fact, there were people back then who wondered if that mark would ever be broken.
Seems quaint now. Here we are, 20 years later and Federer finished at 20; Djokovic has 21; Nadal leads at 22. The latter two also count: Nadal, 36, won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June; Djokovic, 35, won Wimbledon in July.
“No. 1, it’s easier to walk through different surfaces these days. Pete only made one semi-final with the French. Borg never went to Australia. … And,” said Federer, “it was less professional in the ’70s.”
Federer also pointed out: He, Nadal, Djokovic and Williams and the rise of social media all contributed to a paradigm shift of Grand Slam meaning compared to other tournaments and made it possible to chase those records – and talk about them Chasing records — more widely accepted and taken for granted.
“It’s a different world now,” said Federer.
He used to say: “It wasn’t about records. This whole record thing started, I would say, with Sampras wanting to top (Roy) Emerson’s 12. That’s what built this generation that we’re seeing with Novak and Rafa right now. When I came up in the 90’s I don’t remember all those records. I remember that Pete was kind of following her, but I wasn’t aware of it. They just said, ‘Oh, you play like Pete, so you’re going to be ‘the next Pete Sampras.’ I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’”
He rolled his eyes at that.
Then Federer continued to talk about Sampras: “I don’t even remember how many slams he had back then. I don’t even remember where he passed that record. It was a big moment, I’m sure, but as a historian of the game, I don’t really remember it.”
Players have changed. Media coverage has changed. The attention of the fans has changed.
“We behave differently and are driven differently. I don’t think you planned years ahead: “OK, I have 10 years ahead, so let’s break it down. What do I have to do to achieve something like this?’ It used to be ‘OK, what are we playing next week?’” Federer said. “I just think it’s different and so I think in the future we’re going to see more successful players and they can play longer because they’re maintaining their body.”
For the current generation of new talent, including just 19-year-old US Open champion and No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz or French Open and US Open runner-up Casper Ruud, who is No. 2 at 23, that’s an example there.
Now the question is: can they follow him?
“They took it to a whole other level and showed that anything is possible. Imagine if one of the three weren’t there, how many the other two would have. They would probably be almost 30 years old. … It gives inspiration to young players like me and the younger generation to see how well it’s possible to play,” said Ruud. “I don’t think that record will ever be broken, but let’s look to the future. Everything can happen.”
Felix Auger-Aliassime, a US Open semifinalist aged 21 last year, agrees it helps to have something to aspire to.
As well as role models pointed out by team world vice-captain Patrick McEnroe, the Big Three are in terms of sportsmanship and “the way the game is actually played on the pitch”.
“Now the younger players are training hard, always trying to improve, becoming more and more professional,” said Auger-Aliassime. “It raises the bar for the level and competitiveness of the sport, which I think drives the sport forward.”