On Monday, for the first time since Oct. 7, 2002, the ATP released a rankings list that didn't include Roger Federer in the top 10. The all-time Grand Slam champion and player with the most weeks at No. 1 in history finally fell out of the single-digits when points from last year's Paris tournament were wiped off the books. It was a ranking fall that was inevitable ever since Federer ended his season after Wimbledon (when ranked No. 3) and then slowly watched his year-to-year points drop from his total. He fell from No. 9 to No. 16 on Monday, where he should end the season – still an impressive feat for a 35-year-old who hasn't played since early July and started just seven tournaments.
What was going on when Federer first stepped into the top 10 those 734 weeks ago? The not-at-all horrible or wordily titled Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones was still in theaters along with Signs, Swimfan and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. On TV, Friends was still there for you while American Idol (which also lived from 2002-2016) had just begun. George W. Bush hadn't yet reached the midway point of his first term as president. And Federer was still a roughneck long-hair not quite playing up to expectations.
Federer, the highly touted Swiss talent who'd been something of a professional underachiever in his teens, had recently started playing to his full potential and, that summer at age 20, had a brief summer flirtation with the top 10 that ended with a shock first-round loss to Mario Ancic at Wimbledon. (He wouldn't lose his next 41 matches at the All England Club.) That loss took him back out of the top 10, which he got back to in early October after a tournament title in Vienna catapulted him to the No. 7 position in the rankings. He wouldn't leave until Monday.
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Over the next 14 years, Federer spent 302 weeks at No. 1, 471 weeks in the top two and 627 weeks in the top three. He was No. 7 or below in just a handful of those rankings. Actually, the new Federer spot – No. 16 – is the lowest he's been since May 28, 2001, when the chads were still warm in Palm Beach County.
Federer's 734-straight top-10 weeks is not the all-time record, it should be noted. Jimmy Connors had 788 straight weeks from 1973 to 1988, though the rankings system (and the landscape of tennis itself) was so different back then that comparing the two is frivolous. While Andre Agassi and Connors have some other rankings longevity marks, Federer recently became the player with the most consecutive weeks inside the top 100 with 891.