MELBOURNE, Australia – This year, it appears to be Wayne Ferreira’s turn to be caught by Roger Federer.
A serial record breaker, Federer has chased down many marks that define tennis greatness while winning 17 Grand Slam singles titles and piling up 302 weeks at No. 1.
Ferreira, a freckled South African who retired in 2005, does not usually get mentioned in the same sentence with Federer.
A perennial top-20 player with a distinctive, swooping backswing on his imposing forehand, Ferreira struggled to produce results commensurate with his talent in the Grand Slam tournaments.
Although he reached semifinals at the 1992 and 2003 Australian Opens, he rarely went deep in the draw otherwise.
But Ferreira, lean and tough, was remarkably durable and set the men’s record for consecutive Grand Slam singles tournaments played with 56.
Now comes Federer, who is about to play his 53rd consecutive Grand Slam event when the Australian Open begins Monday and who, if he remains on course, will tie Ferreira’s mark at the U.S. Open in August.
“Well, he’s only got four to go, so I do think he’ll make it,” Ferreira said. “But the other thing, too, is he’s planning on playing through the next Olympics in 2016, so I think he’s going to not only break it but add quite a few more onto it. So it’s very, very impressive.
“I never quite realized while I was playing how difficult it was to stay healthy for that long. But for him, doing as well as he has in the Grand Slams, it’s almost even more impressive. He went a lot further and has played a lot more matches than I have, so it’s extremely impressive that he’s lasted this long.”
Federer sits third on the career list, with retired six-time Grand Slam champion Stefan Edberg second with 54 consecutive appearances.
“Still here,” Federer said, grinning, on Saturday in Melbourne.
“I know he played a ton in a row,” Federer said of Ferreira. “I used to ballboy him, then I played doubles with him. Obviously he’s a good friend of mine. It’s something I’d like to share with him.”
Like Ferreira, Federer said that this was not a streak he planned and that when he started on tour, some players would skip the Australian Open or even Wimbledon.
“I came through that period of time as well, but I felt my game suited all the surfaces, so I thought, might as well go to all the different tournaments,” he said. “Next thing you know, we’re here talking about it. It wasn’t something that was planned in any way.”
Perhaps this will be the year when Federer finally breaks down, when his nagging back problems become something more serious. Perhaps this will even be the year when Federer, the president of the ATP Tour Player Council, and other leading men decide to sit out a major in an attempt to force the issue on their demands for greater Slam revenue sharing.
“I would be very surprised if they did do that,” Ferreira said. “Personally, if anyone is going to break the record, Roger’s always the one person you wouldn’t mind having do it.”