Can Roger Federer overhaul Jimmy Connors' mark of 109 career titles?

The Swiss joined an exclusive club alongside the American by winning title No 100 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Roger Federer poses with the 100th trophy of his career after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final on Saturday. EPA
Roger Federer poses with the 100th trophy of his career after defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final on Saturday. EPA

Even in celebrating the milestone moment of 100 singles titles it was inevitable that Roger Federer would be looking ahead.

After beating Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to bring up his century of ATP Tour titles, one of Federer's first acts was to confirm his participation at the 2020 event in which he attempt to win the event for a record-extending ninth time.

The question now is: how many trophies will he have added when he returns to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium in 12 months time?

In winning Dubai for an eight time on Saturday, Federer became only the second player to reach three figures for tournaments won, the first being Jimmy Connors who achieved the feat in 1983 when he won the US Open and would go on to end his career with a haul of 109.

Federer needs only nine more titles to tie the American and 10 to take over top spot. Considering he rejected retirement talk ahead of his Dubai title challenge, it's feasible Federer will continue at least until the end of 2020, when he will be 39.

Will he be able to claim another 10 titles by then?

Federer won four titles in 2018, and he was pushed hard in his early matches in Dubai, so winning another 10 tournaments in the next 21 months may be a stretch. If the 37-year-old Swiss has his sights set on overhauling Connors' record, he will most likley have to play well into 2021, or his 40th birthday.

Federer was reverential towards Connors on Saturday. When a reporter pointed out that more than half of Connors' titles were now historically considered to be at ATP 250 level, the fourth tier of tournament value in modern tennis behind a grand slam, Masters 1000 and an ATP 500, Federer shot it down.

"The 250s are not easy to win as well nowadays," he said. "I don't see it is as something that should take anything away from Jimmy. I think what he did was extraordinary."

It took Connors 11 years after winning his first tournament in Jacksonville to reach 100 titles. Federer took six years and seven months to lifting his first tile in Milan in January 2001 to his half-century in Cincinnati in August 2007. It has taken another 11 years and six months to win the next 50.

That it took Federer longer to reach his century has little to do with the quality of the Swiss' than it does the rise of both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have both had their own periods of dominance during that time.

Between 2008 and 2018 Federer averaged four tournament wins a year. If he continues that form he will end 2020 on 108, one short of Connors' mark.

Those statistics, however, should not be seen as definitive: Federer did not win a title in 2016, for instance, because he missed half the season after having knee surgery. He won seven times in 2017 and also picked up five titles in 2012. But 2018 seems a better barometer to judge his ability to win titles. Firstly, because it is the most recent complete season and second because it outlines the landscape ahead.

For much of this decade the bigger titles largely alluded Federer because Djokovic was the dominant force. Djokovic struggled with injury and personal problems in 2017 and early 2018, allowing Federer to capitalise and win three grand slams. The 2017 season was his best since 2011, but it was no coincidence Federer won only one major in 2018 - the Australian Open - as Djokovic rebounded to top form in the second half of the year.

Federer is opening himself up to more chances of success this year by playing clay tournaments for the first time since 2016. But given Nadal's brilliance on that surface, adding trophies on what Federer admits is his weakest surface seems optimistic.

Dubai was a reality check on where Federer's game is. He was pushed hard by journeymen Philipp Kohlschreiber, Fernando Verdasco and Marton Fucsovics in the early rounds and had to dig deep to get through. But he showed his brilliance against Borna Coric and then his ruthless experience in defeating Tsitsipas in the final.

Federer was not always at his best against Tsitsipas, but he did not need to be. The young Greek was exhausted, having played and won in Marseille the week before, and was edged a three-hour epic against Gael Monfils to reach the final against Federer. Federer knew that and was on him immediately and broke Tsitsipas in the first game. He did not let him settle and forced an early advantage he would not relinquish. Tsitsipas had beaten Federer in January at the Australian Open but Federer learnt from his mistakes in Melbourne and was a worthy winner.

Only Federer will know if he wants to go for 110, or if he just happy to continue playing until his body eventually cries enough.

But his win in Dubai makes it clear that he still has what it takes to win titles. There will surely be more to come. The question is how many?

Published: March 4, 2019 08:33 AM


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