Somehow,it seemed so easy for so many people to write off Roger Federer. He was past his 30th birthday,they would point out. About two years went by without any additions to his Grand Slam trophy case,the thinking went. First Rafael Nadal,then Novak Djokovic,overtook Federer in the rankings and as the man to beat at major tournament after major tournament.
Well,look at the guy now. Wimbledon champion,once again,stretching his record total to 17 Slams. Ranked No. 1,once again. And – heading into Monday’s start of the U.S. Open – the favourite to reach the final,once again.
“I’m out of the business of predicting Federer anymore,” said Andre Agassi,the two-time U.S. Open champion and runner-up to Federer in 2005. “He looked as comfortable as I’ve ever seen him on the tennis court in England. He’s certainly as capable of it as anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Federer’s pursuit of a sixth U.S. Open title at age 31 will certainly be among the main angles to keep track of on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows. A key question for most in the field,including the Swiss,is: What sort of effect there will be from the short turnaround after the grass-court London Games? “There’s no doubt about it: This is not an ideal preparation,” said Federer.
“It’s not impossible,” Federer added,”In the past,you would take a few weeks off for a top player,then prepare for three brutal weeks on hard courts,then come over here wanting to fire on all cylinders. This year,it’s different.”
He once won 40 matches in a row at the U.S. Open,a streak that ended with a five-set loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 final. That was followed by semifinal setbacks against Djokovic each of the past two years,including what Federer calls “that brutal match” – in 2011,when Federer took the first two sets,then held two match points,but couldn’t close the deal.
Djokovic went on to victory in the final against Nadal. That was part of a stretch in which the Serb and the Spaniard split up nine Slams in a row,shutting out Federer and leaving him stuck on 16 trophies for more than two full seasons. Given how rare it is for a man past 30 to remain in the upper echelon of tennis,there were plenty of whispers that the Swiss might be finished. A man who reached a record 10 consecutive major finals from 2005-07,then another eight in a row from 2008-10,suddenly was losing the occasional Slam quarterfinal.
Djokovic and Nadal,to name two,never doubted Federer would reassert himself. “He was always there,” Djokovic said. “Last couple years,he didn’t win a major,but he was in a couple of finals and always semis.”
Continuing what he termed “a magical summer for me”,Federer earned his first individual Olympic medal. Then he showed he can still turn up big on hard courts,winning a record-equaling 21st career Masters title last weekend,holding serve throughout the tournament and beating Djokovic in the final.
With Nadal sidelined,and Murray still waiting to win a major final,the duo appear set to take center stage at the U.S. Open. And,at the very least,Federer is firmly back at the forefront.