I have never hidden the fact that I enjoy Roger Federer’s play and his winning as much as I’ve enjoyed watching or rooting for any player in tennis history. I try to be fair, but I think objectivity is a fictional location that, like Utopia, does not exist for human beings. Roger Federer trails Novak Djokovic by 990 points for 2014. With Novak off this week, Roger could trim his lead by nearly 1/3 if he repeats his runner-up performances at Basel from 2012 and 2013. If Roger, wins Basel, he’d cut more than 1/2 of Novak’s points lead. While Roger’s appearance at Paris-Bercy is not a sure thing, Roger could catch and surpass Novak’s ranking points total by the time the World Tour Finals concludes. Rafa could make things interesting too if he wins Basel and Paris heading into the World Tour Finals, but at present that looks like trying to draw and inside straight flush. Of course, Nole might miss everything between now and the end of the year given the
impending birth of his first child. In that case, Roger and Rafa have a chance to pass Novak and claim the top spot for the year.
It Should Not Come Down to This
No male tennis player has finished a year ranked number one without claiming a Grand Slam title since John McEnroe did so in 1982. Jimmy Connors won Wimbledon and the US Open in 1982, but did not claim the #1 ranking when the season ended. Connors did finish 1975 and 1977 ranked #1 without owning a slam in those years so he experienced both sides of this rare phenomenon. As odd as that was, at that time only three slams were viewed as being important and Roland Garros was considered a level below the US Open and Wimbledon. With 4 slams occupying importance today, it seems like a number one is almost certainly going to also be holding a Grand Slam crown at the end of the year. The only similar situation in semi-recent memory was Andre Agassi pushing Lleyton Hewitt for the #1 ranking at the close of 2002 despite Agassi not winning a major in 2002.
Marin Cilic and Stanislas Wawrinka have each had breakout years that included a maiden Grand Slam title. While they each claimed other titles as well, neither man has done enough to be considered number one for 2014. Rafael Nadal was the runner-up at the Australian Open, won Roland Garros, and won or made deep runs in other settings as well. However, at Wimbledon he lost in the round of 16 and skipped the entire North American hard court season including the US Open. He’s a contender, but he’s not the one. While Rafa posted a 16-2 record across three Grand Slam events, Nole went 22-3 in Grand Slam play. Rafa has won a Masters 1000 title and finished as a runner-up at two others. Nole has won 3 Masters 1000 shields in 2014. Novak has been better than the other 3 Grand Slam title winners from January 1 to present. That makes him number one in my mind. However, Nole did not do much at Toronto or Cincinnati when Rafa was absent, and he lost in Melbourne where he had been the undisputed King of Plexicushion (that title sounds terrible). This left the door open for someone to get hot and make this into a race.
How Roger Made a Race of This
Roger played quite well from Brisbane through Monte Carlo. He won Dubai (a 500 level event) and was runner-up at 3 events including two Masters 1000 tournaments and played well in Melbourne reaching the semifinal round. Since Roland Garros, Roger has been playing tennis at something close to his 2004-2007 level. He won Halle, was runner-up at Wimbledon, was runner-up at Toronto, won Cincinnati, was a semifinalist at the US Open and won Shanghai. He also threw in 2 Davis Cup singles victories for good measure. Federer has earned 4770 ranking points since his Roland Garros loss to Gulbis. I don’t begrudge Roger for playing great tennis and winning frequently. In fact, I rather enjoy it. Any athlete should try to win when competing, and Federer’s winning a lot. He will no doubt try to win Basel, try to win in Paris if he plays and try to win a record 7th World Tour Finals crown. I wish him well in each event. The computer might even recognize him as having had the best 2014 season. In my mind, even if Roger wins Basel, London and a Davis Cup for Switzerland, Novak Djokovic had the best 2014.