1) 2003 Wimbledon final v Mark Philippoussis
The 2003 Wimbledon final marked Federer’s first grand slam victory, and the first time he had such a huge audience watching on TV. In the first-set tiebreaker, with the score knotted at two apiece, Federer displayed all his brilliance in one point: a half-volley from the baseline, wide-angled groundstrokes and a finish with a brilliant forehand down the line.
2) 2005 US Open final v Andre Agassi
Playing somewhat against the crowd – perhaps for the only time in his career – who were behind the sentimental favorite Agassi, Federer unleashed a ridiculously powerful forehand from well behind the baseline in the early going (around the 28 second mark in the video above). The veteran American looked stunned. Agassi would later say of the match: “When I faced Roger Federer in the 2005 US Open final, there was no safe place to put a ball on the court. Roger’s serve, return, movements and net game were incredible; his versatility was so strong that he might have had five things individually better than everybody else on the Tour.”
3) 2009 French Open semi-final v Juan Martin del Potro
Federer, just months after a heart-wrenching defeat at the hands of Rafael Nadal in the 2009 Australian Open final, was desperate to claim a French title to complete the career grand slam. When Nadal was shocked by Robin Söderling in the fourth round, Federer knew this could well be his best chance to win in Paris. But he faced a huge – literally – hurdle in the 6ft7in Del Potro and his relentless ground game. But Federer utilized his varied arsenal to sneak by with a five-set triumph. In the second game of the match, Federer somehow tracked down a forehand and curved the ball down the line for a winner. The Swiss maestro then went on to demolish surprise finalist Söderling in the final to win his only French Open title.
4) 2009 Wimbledon final v Andy Roddick
A year after participating in what many believe to be the greatest match ever played at SW19, losing to Nadal in five thrilling sets, Federer was back in the Wimbledon final and, again, competing in another epic. Roddick took the first set and then held a commanding 6-2 lead in the tiebreaker. Serving for a seemingly insurmountable two-set lead, Roddick looked to be in relative control of the point when he smacked a forehand at Federer’s feet. But Federer casually hit a half-volley backhand winner (around the 4min 45sec mark in the video above) and ended up winning the tiebreak. He would win an extraordinary fifth set 16-14.
5) 2010 US Open semi-final v Novak Djokovic
This list includes a few points that got away from Federer but merit inclusion due to their significance. In 2010, with New York fans salivating at the chance of a Federer-Nadal final (sadly Gotham never got to witness the two facing off), it seemed like it would indeed come to pass. Djokovic, serving down 15-40, missed two first serves. But Federer got tight on both points and he let Djokovic attack (disclaimer: these two points are included as one).
6) 2011 French Open semi-final v Djokovic
Coming into the French Open in 2011, Federer was in the first “slump” of his career, as he had gone four straight grand slams without claiming a title. All the talk coming into the tournament was about Nadal, who was coming off a three grand slam year in 2010, and Djokovic who was finally coming into his own after a brilliant start to the year, winning 41 consecutive matches, including at the Australian Open a few months prior. In a significant upset, a visibly motivated Federer beat Djokovic in four sets. In the final set of his victory, after both greats traded stellar shots from all over the court, Federer somehow came up with a flicked backhand down-the-line passing shot that stunned Djokovic (around the two-minute mark in the clip above) and helped seal the victory. Waving his finger in the air after the match was done, it was obvious to all how much this victory meant to him. Though Nadal thrashed Federer in the final, it didn’t take away from how important a victory this was.
7) 2011 US Open semi-final v Djokovic
Remarkably, just a year after losing two match points in the semi-final to his rival, Federer again found himself up two match points in the same round in New York. This time it was on his serve. And this time, Djokovic came up with a ridiculous return to save the first match point. Then on the second match point, and visibly shaken by what Djokovic had just pulled off on the first match point, Federer bungled a simple forehand into the bottom of the net. After the match, Federer, in a rare moment of outward irritation, commented that Djokovic didn’t appear like someone “who believes much anymore in winning. To lose against someone like that, it’s very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go.”
8) 2017 Australian Open final v Nadal
His career having been declared unofficially over, after struggling with physical ailments and lackluster performances in the slams, Federer came into the Australian Open with little fanfare. And the same can be said of Nadal who was also coming off arguably the worst period of his career. But the two put on a show in Melbourne. Nadal had figured out the formula for beating Federer (high balls to the backhand side) and came into the event with a dominant record against his arch rival. On this day, Federer’s backhand didn’t buckle. But it was his all-powerful forehand that won him the match, as exemplified by this point in the third set that gave Federer a break point. Federer somehow struck a half-volley with frightening power down the line that gave him added momentum (45 second mark above). Federer would go on to win the title, coming back from a break down in the fifth to do so, and thus starting the third act of his brilliant career.
9) 2017 Miami Open quarter-final v Tomas Berdych
OK, so this wasn’t a truly important match or tournament for Federer (although he did win it). But it has to be included because the shot is so extraordinary: a mid-court, high-in-the-air drop shot that completely fooled Berdych.
10) 2019 Wimbledon final v Djokovic
It seems wrong to end on another negative moment for Federer but the loss obscured this stunning fact: that Federer, weeks from turning 38, an ancient age in the sport, was one point from winning one more grand slam title. That it all unfolded against Djokovic must have stung. Yet again, Federer had the match on his own serve (around the 40 second mark above) but he went for conservative serves that Djokovic brushed off with seeming ease. After it was over, a disconsolate Federer said, “I don’t know what I feel right now. I just feel like it’s such an incredible opportunity missed, I can’t believe it.”
That may be true, but missteps like this stand out in Federer’s career because he was so often close to perfect.