- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

Roger Federer stands as the most decorated player in men’s tennis, holder of 15 Grand Slam titles and an unmatched streak of excellence.

What will become of the man who has reached the summit of Mount Everest? Is there any higher peak for him to climb?

Tennis fans soon will find out. This was hardly a last hurrah, going-out-on-top moment for Federer, who looks as dominant, fit and confident as ever.

The sweet-swinging Swiss is not done expanding his trophy cabinet. By the end of it all, whenever that comes, he may need a whole palace.

Federer now has two missions: build on his record of Grand Slam titles to place it out of reach of any mortal man and reverse the recent course of his rivalry against Rafael Nadal. The goals go hand in hand; Nadal is the only player on tour capable of beating Federer on a regular basis, having won their past three Grand Slam meetings.

Federer’s victories at Wimbledon and the French Open helped him regain the world’s top ranking, which he ceded to Nadal last summer. But to some, the ascendance deserves an asterisk: The wins came while Nadal was either slowed or shelved by tendinitis in his knees.

Nadal will be back, certainly in time for the U.S. Open next month. He will be rested, prepared and motivated to win the only Grand Slam title that he lacks. And truth be told, Federer wants to see Nadal again - not just in New York but over the next year. To round out his legacy, he will want to conquer Nadal on the largest stages. He will want payback for his gut-wrenching loss at the Australian Open in January. And he will want another French Open title, this time against Nadal in the final.

If Federer can exorcise his Nadal demons - or if Nadal’s health becomes a recurring issue - there is no limit to how many Grand Slam titles he can win.

Federer will turn 28 this summer. He is not a young man by tennis standards, but he is three years younger than Pete Sampras was when he won his last major title. He is nearly four years younger than Andre Agassi at the time of his last Grand Slam victory. Given that he has averaged more than two Grand Slam wins a year since 2003, he could end up with more than 20 majors.

A lofty number, for sure, but it’s realistic considering Federer has been remarkably healthy. His only significant health-related setback came from a bout with mononucleosis last year. His style of play is so smooth and so seemingly effortless that it’s hard to imagine him being felled by injury.

His status as the winningest player in history also will afford him some flexibility in scheduling. As he gets older, he may choose to play fewer tournaments to reduce wear and tear on his body.

It’s also clear Federer always will give himself a chance to win. He has made it to 21 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. He has appeared in 20 of the past 24 Grand Slam finals. No athlete has been as consistently good for such a long stretch.

And his swan song still may be years away.

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