Professional tennis has returned to Newport this week with the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open, the grass-court tournament known for decades as the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships. But instead of focusing on defending champ Ivo Karlovic and two-time former champs John Isner and Rajeev Ram, the headliners, let’s look ahead to, say, 2025, when the greatest player of all time could take his place among the other greats of the game.
I refer, of course, to Roger Federer, the incomparable Swiss gentleman who won his eighth Wimbledon championship Sunday with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 dismantling of Marin Cilic of Croatia. Federer had been tied with Hall of Famer Pete Sampras and 1880s star Willie Renshaw with seven singles titles at the All England Club. This Grand Slam championship was his 19th, also a record, and his second this year. He won the Australian Open in January. He also won on grass at Halle, Germany, and on hard courts at Indian Wells in California and Key Biscayne in Florida.
That Federer will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame is certain. The question is when. Current policy is that a player must be retired for five years, but only Federer knows when that day will dawn. It will not be any time soon, that’s for sure, because he is playing better than anyone on the planet since returning to the tour in January after taking the last six months of 2016 off to fully recover from knee surgery. He is 31-2 in matches, has defeated all nine of his Top 10 opponents and has won 17 of his 22 tiebreakers. He skipped the French Open to prepare for Wimbledon and tore through that draw without losing a set. That’s 21 consecutive sets without a loss in the most prestigious tournament in the world. Only Bjorn Borg in 1976 had gone 21-0 at Wimbledon.
Federer needed only 1 hour and 41 minutes to dismiss Cilic in the final. And, if you don’t already know, Federer is 35, the oldest men’s singles champion of the Open Era, which dawned in 1968. He has moved up to No. 3 in the rankings and has qualified for the ATP Finals for the 15th time, a record.
Retire soon? Not likely.
I admire Federer for his poise more than his power, the grace with which he handles himself in victory as well as defeat, the patience with which he answers questions he has heard a hundred, if not a thousand, times. I admire his commitment to fitness and his willingness to take time off to let his body recover. Most of all, I admire the fact that Federer has remained free of controversy throughout his career. He is a champion’s champion, which is why some day he and his family will visit Newport during the Hall of Fame Open so that he can enter the Hall of Fame.