Fed admits defeat in tennis’ great race
ROGER Federer, for one, figures questions about whether Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic - or both? - will surpass his men's record for most grand slam singles titles are moot.
That's because he's sure it's going to happen. And he's OK with that. Ending up in third place, Federer insists, would be just fine.
"I think the way it's going, obviously, Rafa and Novak will win more," Federer said matter-of-factly.
"Because they're that good. And the season they had (in 2019), again, shows that there is more to come for them."
He didn't say this with a wistful sigh or a disappointed glance at the floor or a trace of regret. That's just the way he sees things at the moment.
Entering the Australian Open starting on Monday in Melbourne, Federer leads the list with 20 majors, followed by Nadal with 19 and Djokovic with 16. Nadal could pull even with Federer for the first time. Whether or not it truly matters who comes out on top when all is said and done, everyone is going to be paying attention to how it shakes out.
Including Federer, who surpassed Pete Sampras' old standard of 14 a decade ago. Don't mistake an honest outlook for disinterest.
"I guess you do care, to some extent, just because it's normal," Federer said, acknowledging how much it meant to him that Sampras was sitting in the Centre Court stands for his No. 15.
"I looked up to him so much that I felt, also, uncomfortable maybe, sometimes, breaking his records. It's not something I ever wanted to do. It just happened to be like this.
"But of course I knew it was a big, big-time moment in our sport. And I think those are the moments you will remember.
"Now, at the end, if somebody else would pass you, I mean, I guess it's OK, because that's what sports is all about. It's a lot about numbers. It's a lot about records.
"But I had my moment and I always said everything that comes after 15 was, anyway, a bonus. And especially after the knee injury (in 2016), everything that came after that was a bonus.
"I would have taken one more slam, and I was able to get three more - and three amazing ones."
Nadal, currently world No. 1, and Djokovic, who is No. 2, each won two majors last season.
Djokovic won the Australian Open, beating Nadal in the final, and Wimbledon, beating Federer in the final after saving two championship points. Nadal won at Roland Garros, beating Federer in the semi-finals, and the US Open, facing neither of the other two.
"I always say the same: I would love to be the one who wins more," Nadal said. "But I am not thinking (about it) and I'm not going to practice every day ... for it."
After his seventh championship in Australia a year ago, Djokovic said: "I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall wellbeing that I have - mental, physical, emotional - so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come, and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger's record."
Federer's most recent grand slam triumph arrived at Melbourne Park in 2018. He is 38, an age at which no one has won a slam in the professional era, but he doesn't feel compelled to quit anytime soon. Still, time is certainly on the side of Nadal, 33, and Djokovic, 32.
"I honestly think it's going to be quite exciting to see how much longer can they go. How much more can they win? They might have some more incredible years ahead of them. That's my assumption," Federer said.
"It's a bit of a golden time for tennis right now, no doubt."