Each week, Baseline will take a look at a player who has thrived at one of the stops on the ATP and WTA tours during their career. (Photos: Getty Images)
Over the course of his record-breaking career, Roger Federer has won 28 of his career titles at the Masters 1000 level, with the Cincinnati tournament his most successful event.
The Swiss has come out on top seven times there, good enough for first place on the all-time champions’ list. Surprisingly, though, the journey was actually a rough one at the start—even as he was racing up the standings to the top spot.
Making his debut at the tournament in 2000, ranked No. 39 in the world, Federer fell in the first round to the Spanish veteran, Francisco Clavet. It was his future coach, Ivan Ljubicic, who then upset the world No. 14 in his next appearance in 2002. Fresh off his first Grand Slam title in 2003 at Wimbledon, Federer won a match in Cincinnati for the first time, but his junior rival David Nalbandian stopped him in the next round.
Entering the 2004 edition of the tournament as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Federer’s misfortunes continued as Dominik Hrbaty defeated him in three sets in the opening round.
By the time of the tournament in 2005, the Swiss had already won seven titles on the year. After being pushed to three sets in two of his first five matches, Federer beat Andy Roddick in straight sets in the final to win the title for the first time.
A year later, though, the feeling of disappointment returned as the young Scot Andy Murray topped him in the second round. Federer returned to the winner’s circle in Cincinnati in 2007: After edging out Lleyton Hewitt in a third-set tiebreak in the semifinals, he defeated James Blake in the final.
Once again, though, his attempts at a title defense were put on hold as Ivo Karlovic beat him in 2008 in the third round. After winning the French Open for the first time in 2009 and following that up with another Wimbledon victory, Federer entered the summer hard court season on a mission, one that saw him win in Cincinnati for the third time. And finally, Federer was able to defend his title at the tournament in 2010: After a first-round bye, an early-match retirement and a walkover, Federer only played three full matches—the last a thriller against Mardy Fish—to win.
The victory marked the second time he became a four-time champion at a Masters tournament, following his success at the clay-court event in Hamburg.
In his next two title-winning runs in Cincinnati, his paths to victory were a near-total contrast: The world No. 1 won the 2012 edition without the loss of a set, beating Novak Djokovic—the man right behind him in the rankings—in the final. In 2014, down to No. 3 in the standings, Federer battled through three-setters in three of his five matches, including the final against David Ferrer.
At a tournament that had created so many highs and lows for the Swiss, Federer defended the title again for the second time in 2015 with one of his most impressive performances as he beat No. 2 Murray and No. 1 Djokovic in the last two rounds.
After missing the tournament the next two years, the 37-year-old Federer—continuing his late-career resurgence—reached the final, but was on the other end of history as Djokovic beat him to complete his collection of titles at all nine Masters events.
The Swiss fell to the young Russian Andrey Rublev last year and skipped this year’s event due to a knee injury. If he returns to the tournament in 2021 as a 40-year-old, you can’t count him out as a title contender. After all, Federer has shown over the past 20 years that you can expect the unexpected from him in Cincinnati.