It had begun to feel like the glittering career of Roger Federer was nearing its end.
After last week’s Wimbledon however, this feeling has proved emphatically wrong
Last year was difficult for the Swiss. He only played in 2 of the major tournaments; the Australian Open and his beloved Wimbledon.
At the Australian, he met Novak Djokovic in the semi-final, who was coming off the back off two brilliant seasons and looked to continue his dominance. Djokovic outclassed Federer and the 5 years’ difference in age between the two men felt like a chasm.
More injuries followed, meaning Federer missed out on the French, before arriving at Wimbledon seeded third behind Djokovic and Murray. As we are accustomed to, Federer made light work of the opening few rounds, until the quarters where he beat this year’s final victim, Marin Cilic, in five sets.
Federer then came up against the agile Canadian Milos Raonic. This time, five sets proved to be a step too far and Federer was out.
For the first time in over a decade, it felt like the new generation of players would begin to outclass the greatest tennis player to have ever graced the famous grass courts of Wimbledon.
This is what makes the year Federer has had even more impressive.
In an age where schedules are fuller than ever, and the bodies of athletes are tested more than ever before, injuries often become the norm. Take Andy Murray’s Wimbledon title challenge this year as an example. Dismissals regarding hip injuries were false, and eventually took their toll over an arduous two weeks, when he ran out of steam against Sam Querrey.
Federer’s resurgence in 2017 can be put down to 3 main points:
- Changing Game – Federer knows that he cannot compete with people like Murray when it comes to his relentless returning, or Djokovic’s ability to elasticate his body into positions that don’t seem possible. He has concentrated more than ever in his career on his serve and it is working. In the last year, Federer has won 80% of points on his first serve – compared to Nadal (72.5%), Djokovic (73.1%) & Murray (74.4%). He has never been associated with power, but it is the precision with which he positions the ball that is telling. This was truer than ever when Federer was 15-40 down against Berdych with a place in the Wimbledon final at stake. The points that followed (3 aces and 1 service winner) had no regard for the pressure on the situation and would have been better associated with Pete Sampras or Goran Ivanisevic.
- Effortlessness – The fact that Federer seems to be able to play the game with an elegance and simplicity that is beyond the realms of possibility for the rest of us has helped his durability at the top of the game. He often strolls off the court looking the same as he did when he walked on. His ability to remain calm and finish off a point with precision before it becomes a real battle has helped his body in the long run.
- Scheduling – Federer knows that all good things must come to an end but he is not prepared to let this happen just yet. He knows his body better than anyone and the maturity with which he has handled the latter stages of his career to date deserves respect. The new decisions Federer must make over which tournaments best suit him must be strange. What was he thinking during the French Open? With Rafa in irresistible form on the clay, it has proved a wise decision, but I refuse to believe that Federer found it easy watching from the comfort of his sofa; the man is elegant on all surfaces.
I will remember Federer for his one-handed backhand; it is a thing of real beauty and this, accompanied with the modest swagger he has over tennis courts worldwide will be missed the minute he hangs up his racket.
Let’s hope we see Federer complete a year undefeated in the slams at Flushing Meadows in September. After that, who knows….