During his nearly two decades of excellence, it’s easy to overlook the fact that at multiple points, it looked as if Federer’s best days might be behind him, or that he might permanently lose his place among the sport’s elites. Each time, he defied the skeptics.
The first signs of decline in his game came as far back as 2011, a year when he failed to win a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002.
The next year, however, he rebounded with his most match wins since 2006 and his highest winning percentage and most tour titles since 2007, including another Wimbledon crown that again vaulted him to the world’s top ranking.
The next several years saw Federer plagued with various injuries that led to a four-year Grand Slam championship drought and prompted many pundits to declare his days of greatness over. Federer proved them wrong again, returning to the top of the game in 2017 with titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, where he became the oldest champion at the All England Club in the Open era and first player since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to win the tournament without dropping a set.
After seeing his ranking drop all the way to 17th at the beginning of 2017, Federer had begun his unlikely climb back to the top of the sport.
Former player and longtime coach and analyst Brad Gilbert notes that Federer has an ability to take off long stretches of time to recuperate from injuries and train, and come back stronger and fresher.
"That’s the greatness of Roger, his game comes so easy," Gilbert said on ESPN at the 2017 Wimbledon. "I think on the six-month break (in 2016), he actually came back about five years younger. There’s a lot to learn in how he’s not overplayed. He plays a schedule conducive to what he wants to do, and he takes time off when he needs it to train."