Roger Federer, arguably the greatest men’s tennis player in the history of the sport, moved into rarified air Saturday by winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship—his 100th career title.
With a 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, Federer became just the second man in the Open era to reach the century mark in singles titles.
Five-time US Open champion Federer trails only Jimmy Connors, who won the last of his 109 career singles titles in Tel Aviv in 1989. Federer ranks fifth on the overall list, also behind all-time leader Martina Navratilova (167), Chris Evert (157) and Steffi Graf (107).
“It’s been a long, wonderful journey and it all started as a junior world champion,” Federer said during the trophy presentation. “It’s been great, I wouldn’t do it any differently. I’ve loved every minute. Of course it’s tough sometimes to be on the road and away from your friends, but it was all very, very worthwhile, the sacrifice, and we’ll see how much more I’ve got in the tank. But reaching 100 is an absolute dream come true for me.”
Thirty-seven-year-old Federer, who has captured a record 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, has now won at least one tournament in 18 of the past 19 years. His first title came on the indoor-carpet court of the now-defunct Milan Indoor tournament, part of the ATP International Series, on Feb 4, 2001—6,602 days ago.
Since defeating Marius Copil to lift the Swiss Indoors trophy in Basel for a record ninth time last October, his 99th career title, Federer had three chances to capture No. 100. Twice he was two wins away—at the Paris Masters in November and again at the ATP Tour Finals two weeks later—but his celebrations were put on hold until 2019.
A fourth-round Australian Open loss to Tsitsipas in his third attempt at No. 100 stopped Federer in his bid for his 21st major title in January, but success in familiar surroundings in Dubai helped him avenge the Melbourne defeat and get over the final hurdle.
Federer’s path to 100 in Dubai included a first-round win over Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, and a second-round victory over Fernando Verdasco of Spain, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. The Swiss then dispatched Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 7-6, 6-4, in the quarterfinals and Borna Coric, 6-2, 6-2, in the semis to set up a rematch against Greek 20-year-old Tsitsipas.
Federer was helped by a number of seeds falling in the earlier rounds—third-seeded Marin Cilic, No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov and No. 7 seed Milos Raonic each crashed out in the opening round, and top seed Kei Nishikori lost in the second round—but take nothing away from his performance this week in the United Arab Emirates.
“We’re living in a day and age where all the records have to be shattered, not for me,” Federer said, when asked about chasing Connors’ 109 titles. “I’m just happy I’m still healthy. I’m happy I have such a wonderful team. My family, they all support me for so, so long and I can’t thank them enough.
“If I reach milestones like this along the way, it’s wonderful. But I’m really not here to shatter all the records out there. I think what Jimmy did was an unbelievable achievement. He should be proud of it. I’m proud about the things I have done and tonight was a very special evening, playing Stefanos and seeing the future coming up in the tennis game, it’s part of this whole journey. It’s not about breaking every single record, to be honest.”
In Saturday's final, an aggressive Federer played perfect tennis, breaking once in each set, attacking from inside the baseline and showing flashes of brilliance at the net.
Federer broke Tsitsipas in the very first game and he raced out to a 5-3 lead inside 30 minutes. The Greek held for 5-4, but Federer captured the opening set at the next opportunity. Tsitsipas saved three set points before Federer withstood a pair of break points. But the 37-year-old seized his fourth set point to take a commanding lead.
It was the 18th consecutive best-of-three final that Federer won when he won the first set. The last time he won the opening set of a final and lost was almost five years ago to Stan Wawrinka in Monte Carlo.
Federer won 13 consecutive points on serve in the middle of the second set, but Tsitsipas was also protecting his serve comfortably. Neither player faced a break point until the ninth game when Federer won four straight points on Tsitsipas’ serve when he had led 30-0.
The errant forehand into the middle of the net gave Federer a 5-4 lead and gave him a chance to serve out the match after the changeover. And that is exactly what he did, holding to love to wrap up a 69-minute triumph.
“Just thinking about it, getting to 100 is completely insane,” Tsitsipas said as he received his runner-up trophy. I don’t know how you got there. I would be happy with 100 wins. I’m joking. Definitely trying to get there one day. It’s a great achievement, not many people in tennis have achieved that so congratulations, you’ve created history in tennis.”
Federer has spent 310 total weeks as the top-ranked male tennis player in the world, more than any other man in history and six months more than Pete Sampras, who is currently second on the all-time list at 286 weeks.
Currently ranked No. 7 in the world, Federer, who spent 237 consecutive weeks in the top spot from Feb. 2, 2004, to Aug. 17, 2008, will climb to No. 4 when the new rankings are released Monday.