A year ago, it seemed that the end was near for Roger Federer. But like all great sportsmen, he has proved his detractors wrong. Fitter and stronger, Federer is back to his best. The stage is set for a record 6th US Open title
In 2013, when Roger Federer was addressing journalists at the Swiss Indoors in Basel, his phone rang. Federer, being the nice gentleman he is, pulled out the phone from his pocket, cut the call and got back to answering questions. And then it rang again. And then again. It was his wife most probably, asking him to come back home to be with his twin daughters. Unlike Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal, Federer is married and has kids to take care of. He is 33 years old now. He is father to two sets of twins. And amazingly, he is still the best tennis player in the world. Over the last couple of months, at least.
At the end of the 2013 season, many felt that Federer’s race was run. Plagued by injuries and poor form, he won just one title last year. That too against a lowly field at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle. Federer failed to make a surge at any of the majors, losing to unknown Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round at Wimbledon. His best showing of the year came at the Australian Open, where he lost to Andy Murray in the semi-final. Both Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi won their last majors at 32. Surely, another Grand Slam title seemed out of reach.
A year on, Federer is playing like an ageless wonder. Paul Annacone has been replaced by Stefan Edberg, and the racquet, like his family is bigger. But, the tennis is as sublime as it has ever been, the kind of stuff which boggles your mind every time you see him play. The fear factor is back, the serve is at its swaggering best, and the ground strokes are finding the lines again. All of a sudden, Federer looks 25 again.
He heads into the US Open at Flushing Meadows as the firm favourite. Novak Djokovic might have to say something about that, but the Serb would know that if recent form is anything to go by, then its difficult to bet against Federer. It is difficult to imagine that just a year ago, there were talks of him retiring. But, Federer himself knew that he was far from over. In Cincinnati last week, the Swiss Maestro overcame old foe David Ferrer to clinch a career 22nd Masters 1000 series title. After the win, he joked that he was finally taking home a big trophy for the kids. “I’ve taken a few small ones. Finally I have a big one,” he quipped. The week before that, he narrowly lost out to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The consistency which has often gone missing in the last few years, seems to be coming back. The genius of the man is unravelling once again.
Federer meets Australia’s Marinko Matosevic in the first round of the US Open on Tuesday. Handed an easy draw, Federer can expect his first stern test in the form of Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter finals. The Bulgarian is finally living up to his “Baby Fed” tag, making a charge to the Wimbledon semi-finals earlier this year. Federer won their only meeting in Basel last year, but the seventh seed’s powerful all round game will provide the 5-time champion with a stiff challenge.
The absence of Rafael Nadal and the recent slump in Andy Murray’s form means that Federer, Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka will be the leading contenders for the trophy. Djokovic, beaten by Tsonga in Toronto in the third round and then by Tommy Robredo in the pre-quarter finals in Cincinnati, has not had the best of run-ups to the year’s last Grand Slam. The World no.1 must take up the gauntlet as Murray, Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, and of course Federer, stand between him and a second title at Flushing Meadows.
Given his supreme fitness and incredible hitting consistency, Djokovic may win after all. But an in-form Federer will be hard to resist. If he can keep the points short against the big guns, and his ground strokes are on cue, Federer will be tough to beat. This will remarkably be his 60th consecutive Grand Slam, and he can hopefully take another big trophy home for the kids.
Dhruv Munjal is passionate about sports and reports on most sporting events especially cricket and tennis