Roger Federer became the second man in the Open era to win 100 singles titles on the ATP Tour, defeating rising star Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Saturday.
It was a record eighth title for Federer in Dubai, having won for the first time there in 2003 Federer trails America’s Jimmy Connors, who ended his career with 109 titles.
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The Swiss star, who is now 8-1 for the year, had lost to Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January. Federer will return to World No. 4 when the new rankings come out on Monday, having dropped from third to seventh after his loss in Melbourne.
Among active tennis players, Rafael Nadal stands second with 80 singles titles and Novak Djokovic third with 73. Among the women, Serena Williams is on 72, with no player on the WTA circuit anywhere close.
Federer won three of his record 20 Grand Slam singles titles after turning 35, winning the 2017 Australian Open more than four years after his 16th major, the 2012 Wimbledon. Since the beginning of 2017, he returned to the top of the world rankings again, won a record eighth Wimbledon title the same year and defended his Australian Open title in 2018.
While his form has tapered off over the past year, he still remained in the top three till his fourth-round loss at the 2019 Australian Open. Even more astounding is the fact that Nadal and Federer held the top two positions in the world rankings for more than a year more than 12 years after they first did so.
The questions now are whether the Swiss master can match, or supersede, Connors, who won the last of his 109 titles at Tel Aviv in 1989 at the age of 37, and can Nadal and Djokovic catch up with Federer, being five and six years younger, respectively?
The Big Three have all seen late-career resurgences after writers and critics called time on them. Federer won seven titles in 2017; he turned 36 that year. In 2018, he won another four.
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Also, at 32, Nadal is three Slams short of Federer, and Djokovic is two behind the Spaniard.
On Friday and Saturday, Federer defeated – easily – in two sets apiece two of the Next Gen who have beaten him on a big stage since June. Borna Coric, who lost to the Swiss in the semifinals, beat Federer in the Halle final and the Shanghai Master semifinals last year, in consecutive matches, at age 21.
Tsitsipas, 21, overcame Federer in four sets in Melbourne in a match of supreme quality, before keeling over to Nadal in the semis.
In his quest to match Connors, journalists and critics will write Federer off. But then, they’ve done that before.