It is sometimes difficult to believe that Roger Federer is nearer 38 than 37 or that he has playing professional tennis for 20 years – which is the age of his opponent Stefanos Tsitsipas whom he defeated in the final of the Dubai Open on Sunday and to whom he went down in a shocking loss in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January. In fact as he jokingly said after winning the title in Dubai “I don’t know if Stefanos was born when I won my first title.’’ But Federer is quick to spot a prodigiously gifted talent. “It is a privilege to play against possible future champions. I am sure Stefanos will have a wonderful career.’’
In fact it seemed somehow fitting that the title clash was between a living legend and a player who is widely thought to be the next big thing on the tennis circuit. But that’s for the future. At the moment it is once again Federer’s turn to bask in the sun and his triumph was made more memorable for Dubai marked his 100th singles title. He became only the second man in the Open era to reach this figure. The Swiss is now only nine behind American great Jimmy Connors who racked up 109 titles in a 24-year career.
Competition has always been high since tennis went Open in 1968 but over the years it is getting more and more intense. Connors was a fighter who hated to lose and this hunger for success along with his all court game saw him run up his fabulous record. Given the fact that tennis is even more competitive than it was in Connors’ heyday in the 70s and 80s Federer’s is a tremendous feat. But then such feats and records have come to be expected from Federer. Every year there is some talk whether this could be his final year on the circuit. But these have remained idle talk. And why should there be any talk of retirement when he is still winning tournaments. The Dubai win took him from No 7 to No 4 in the latest ATP rankings and with Connors’ all time record being an incentive one is sure that Federer no less hungry for success will continue to be around for some more time.
In the meantime Tsitsipas hasn’t done his reputation any damage. The Greek’s runner-up position at Dubai has seen him make the top ten for the first time. His has been a remarkable climb to the top and he is clearly the leader of the GenNext of players who are hoping to take over from the likes of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Whether that will be this year or the next remains to be seen. For the moment it is still the era of the “Big Three.’’