By: Jane Voigt
Roger Federer became only the third man in the Open Era to win 1000 ATP matches as he captured the Brisbane International Sunday night, joining Jimmy Connors (1253) and Ivan Lendl (1071). The win earned him an incredible 84th career title, as well.
2015 marked the sixth consecutive year that Brisbane’s No. 1 seed reached the final, Federer going one better than his runner-up finish to Lleyton Hewitt just one year ago.
“I’ll never forget this match, clearly,” Federer told fans inside the Pat Rafter Arena. He also thanked Roy Emerson, who on hand along with Rod Laver during the awards presentation, for teaching him how to milk a cow. It was one of his first prizes early in his career.
As a special recognition, Laver presented Federer was a framed poster, commemorating his 1000 wins. The tournament then played a video montage showing his stellar career, highlighted by interview snippets made by some of the most recognizable names in tennis.
“The longer he stays in tennis, the better for tennis,” Stefan Edberg, one of Federer’s coaches, said.
“We’re watching something special,” Andy Roddick toned. Ironically, Federer is the man with the most wins over Roddick — 21.
It was a fitting celebration after what had been a well-earned 1000th win, as Federer had to edge past No. 3 seed Milos Raonic by the slimmest of margins, 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-4, to earn that historic number.
“It feels very different to any other match I’ve ever won, because I never thought about anything, reaching 500 or 800,” Federer remarked in press. “All those numbers didn’t mean anything to me, but for some reason 1000 means a lot because it’s such a huge number. Just alone to count to 1000 is going to take a while.”
Although Federer dominated a quick 30-minute opening set, what remained showed the best from each player. In the second set tiebreak Raonic won 7 points in a row, recovering from a 0-2 deficit.
The first game of the third set lasted 13 minutes, with Federer saving three break points along the way. At one point, both were 0/5 on break point chances, though Raonic would go on to create twice as many opportunities in the final than he had in his quarterfinal and semifinal combined.
In a turn of stats, Federer hit 21 aces compared to just 14 from Raonic for the match. The Canadian had struck 34 aces in his semifinal victory over No. 2 seed, Kei Nishikori, during a three-tiebreak tussle the day before.
Many thought it would leave Raonic depleted for the final.
But it didn’t. Raonic was seemingly more willing to take bigger cuts at the ball, while sharpening his return of serve and foot-speed. Big serve, big forehand tennis has been Raonic’s calling card up to now. He’ll still rank right up there with Sam Groth on service speed, several clocking at 230 kph/145mph; but today, he broke out another weapon, his down-the-line backhand.
Even with a loss, the early-season predictions that Raonic is on the doorstep of a Grand Slam look that much more accurate. He is certainly leaner and meaner and has an ever increasing amount of variety, an essential element when he faces the top players.
“Great things are ahead for you,” Federer told Raonic. “[I] hope you get to 1000 match wins and can walk when you get to my age, too.”
The one must-improve aspect of the Canadian’s game is arguably the most difficult for almost any player on tour — closing the match. He threw in a crucial fourth double fault to give his lauded rival a championship point. Although conversions had been few and far between thus far, Federer slapped a forehand winner off a second serve and all at once, it was over. It looked as if Raonic’s concentration and energy level dipped at the worst time.
“It’s a little tough standing here in front of all these Grand Slam champions,” Raonic said, with his voice quivering. He turned to Federer, adding, “I thought it was going to be 2000. I think you ought to step it up.”
Federer knows Raonic is on the rise, telling press yesterday, “I was very impressed how well he actually played on all surfaces throughout [the year], clay, grass and hard courts. I think this is a big year fro him to back it up and actually take it even to the next level. He did it this week by beating his rival Nishikori this week.”
Neither man is scheduled to play this week either in Auckland or Sydney. The next time they’re likely to meet will be in Melbourne at The Australian Open.