After 17 Grand Slam titles, the most weeks spent at world No.1 and a staggering 67 major appearances, it’s hard to fathom that there are still more records for Roger Federer to amass.
And yet the world No.3 notched another one as he outclassed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-4 on Friday in the third round of Australian Open 2016, becoming the first man to amass 300 match wins at Grand Slam level.
“It's very exciting, I must tell you. Like when I reached 1000 last year, it was a big deal for me. Not something I ever aimed for or looked for, but when it happens, it's very special,” said Federer, who now trails overall Grand Slam match winner Martina Navratilova by just six matches.
“You look deeper into it, where it's all happened and how. Yeah, so it's very nice. I'm very happy.”
Federer’s closest Open Era match-winning rival is Jimmy Connors, whose 233 major wins seem almost meagre by comparison. But then, the Swiss champion eclipses most other tennis achievements – as the No.27 seed Dimitrov was reminded on Friday.
There was surprisingly little early resistance from Dimitrov, especially considering that he’s long been compared to the Swiss star. In the first set the Bulgarian managed only eight winners to 15 from Federer, which helped him take the important lead in 23 minutes.
But as Federer hit a flat spot, Dimitrov warmed up. Opening the second set with one of the eight aces he’d record for the match, Dimitrov broke to love in the fourth game and with the winners flowing more convincingly, was able to take the set.
A more familiar Federer returned to close out the third set and seal it in the fourth, perhaps helped by an elbow problem for which Dimitrov received treatment at the end of the third set. Serving efficiently, Federer also capitalised on a growing error count from the Bulgarian, who had 44 by the end of the match.
“That was my goal, to react quickly after the second set because I struggled a little bit, but then found my way back, then was able to take charge of the match. It was important,” Federer explained.
“I'm pleased. (It) wasn't easy. I didn't expect it to be against Grigor. It was a tough round, so I'm happy.”
Indeed, the most impressive aspect of Federer’s convincing two hour, 40-minute progression was that it was a fifth straight win over Dimitrov, who has long been considered a likely successor to the 34-year-old champion.
But if Dimitrov is concerned that any ascension is taking longer than expected, he perhaps shouldn’t be – for even Federer concedes that it can be tough for younger stars to earn their big career break.
“The spotlight is on you when you're a teenager,” he pointed out, noting that he relied on countryman Marc Rosset to offer advice in the challenging early years of his career.
“You’ve got to react very quickly to all the things that are coming at you. That's why I think it's always very interesting to follow a teenager growing up on the tennis tour. I miss them, actually, that we don't see more of them.”
As the most senior man in more than a decade to reach the Australian Open’s fourth round – Andre Agassi, at age 34 and 276 days was 100 days older as a 2005 quarterfinalist – Federer has developed a lofty position from which to offer advice.
Asked what he’d tell his younger self, Federer instead had some sage words for the current generation next. “You've got to work hard, even harder now these days it seems like,” he pointed out.
“There's more professional tennis players than ever. The depth is greater. Talent takes you only so far. But the rest of it is you have to teach it to yourself and learn it, get it right.
“You got to be patient, as well. Can't expect to win Slams at 16, 17, 18 anymore these days, skyrocket through the rankings, unless you're out of this world.”
Mistakes, it seems, are what can make a champion, Federer conceding he made many of them as he developed his history-making career.
“I wish I could have maybe been tougher when I was younger in practice, but I guess that's just how it needed to be. It needed to be genius or horrible,” he admitted.
“I needed to have that wide spectrum. I needed to make mistakes to become the player I am today. In a way I would do it again the same way, with just some minor adjustments along the way.”
Three hundred Grand Slam match wins later and the favourite for another in a fourth round against David Goffin, it’s hard to disagree.