Back on clay and back winning matches, Roger Federer has reached yet another landmark: a 1,200th career victory more than two decades after his first professional win.
The 20-time grand slam winner saved two match points against France’s Gael Monfils before coming through in a final-set tiebreak to reach the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open, in his first tournament on clay since May 2016.
His milestone win comes 21 years on from his first, when he secured his first ever ATP Tour main draw success by beating Monfils’ compatriot Guillaume Raoux in Toulouse.
Federer’s victory puts him just 74 match wins behind Jimmy Connors, who holds the men’s record. Martina Navratilova won 1,442 matches on the women’s circuit.
Of men’s players still active, Rafael Nadal is fifth on the list with 936 wins, while Novak Djokovic has 853.
The 37-year-old Federer will now face Dominic Thiem, who beat the Swiss legend in the Indian Wells final.
“Instead of seeing a things bit more cloudy and rainy, you see it more on the sunny side,” said Federer after winning 6-0 4-6 7-6 (7-3).
“You don’t win matches every day saving match points and it makes you feel good, but it is more relief I feel right now.”
The triumph also means that Federer keeps up his own personal record of never having lost a match after winning a set 6-0. That run now stands at 90 matches unbeaten.
Federer took that first set in just 19 minutes, though Monfils fought back to take the second and a 4-1 lead in the decider. However, he could not close out the match, with Federer successfully defending both on his own serve, rushing to the net to shorten the points.
“I felt not so confident to win the point from the baseline,” he said of his tactics on the match’s major moments. “So I said panic mode is switched on and we are coming in.
“You go to the net as quick as possible so you are as close as possible and I framed the first volley, which ended up being perfect.”
Federer’s return to clay-court competition had initially come as a surprise, having joked in April that he “didn’t even remember how to slide anymore”.
He avoided the surface to manage knee problems and ensure he was fit for the grass-court season where he has long asserted such dominance.
With its long rallies and slow courts, clay has never been Federer’s favorite surface. However, as his career slowly winds down, he is determined to give it another shot.