At the beginning of the year if I’d told you that even in the backdrop of Andy Murray’s rise to World Number one and Novak Djokovic domination at the Australian Open where he’s won the event 5 out of the last 6 years, that Roger Federer would not only win the Australian Open but also the first Masters Series event of the year in Indian Wells you’d have thought I’d had a kangaroo loose in the top paddock.
But, alas dear readers that is exactly what’s happened, Federer is having a career uptick right before our very eyes, nobody saw it coming, least of all me. This is what I said back in January in my Australian Open preview about Federer’s chances in Melbourne “Another star that had a season last year wrecked by injury (back, knee) was Roger Federer, the Swiss also didn’t win a tournament for the first time since 2000, saw his ranking drop to 16 and didn’t play a single match after Wimbledon. Don’t expect much from Roger in Melbourne, he’ll be a dangerous seed but playing so little competitive tennis for so many months he won’t have the legs under him, even if he wins a 5 setter expect him to go out next round”
Unlike Arthur Fonzarelli I’ll admit I was “wrong, wrong, wrong”, not only did Federer destroy Berdych in the 3rd round, he backed up a 5 set victory in the 4th round over Nishikori with back to back 5 set wins over Wawrinka and his long time nemesis Nadal to win his 18th Grand Slam title. The Lindt Chocolate Man left me and every other blogger/reporter/analyst with plenty of egg on face. Why is this happening?
Well, with my credibility out the window I’ll still have a crack regardless. The Federer resurgence at least in Melbourne was helped by the courts playing quickish, multiple players mentioned this in the after-match press and tournament director Craig Tiley was quoted in the media that the courts were resurfaced as per usual between October – December but the timing of resurfacing the show courts in October may have played a role in a slicker surface by the time the tournament rolled around.
That combined with the Wilson ball being wound a fraction tighter minimizing the ‘fluffiness’ of the ball (I’m getting scientific here) created a perfect storm for Federer. The storm being fast courts and fast ball helps him hold serve and keep the long rallies to a minimum. Tactically a minor shift happened as well, virtually there was no retreat from the baseline, he rarely got pushed way back, that was due to a more aggressive backhand, especially against Nadal. The spainards high bouncing forehand to Rogers backhand is kryptonite for Federer usually but not on this night, Federer stepped in and jerked Rafa around side to side hitting the ball early before it bounced up too high.
Confidence also played a factor in Melbourne. After the Nishikori victory Federer felt he had nothing to lose, thinking everything else beyond here is gravy. Playing with such freedom was obvious in those 5 set Wawrinka and Nadal victories and with this unexpected win its propelled Federer to victory in last weeks Indian Wells event without losing a set and dominating both Wawinka and Nadal again.
These wins have become a great platform to build towards another Grand Slam run at Wimbledon and the US Open. The six months off last season seems to have had the opposite affect many predicted, instead of generating rust from not playing any competitive matches its rested his body completely to the point that he has comeback physically refreshed as well as mentally invigorated.
At age 35 he has done what recent Champions could not, win a Slam at a time when most of his peers had already retired. Stefan Edberg’s last Slam victory (US Open) was at age 26, he retired at 30, Boris Becker’s last Slam was at age 29 (Australian Open), he retired at 31, Pete Sampras won the US Open at age 31 and never played another match and finally Andre Agassi’s last Slam win was the Australian Open at 32, he retired four years later at 36 wrecked by an injured back.
With Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both missing in Miami this week due to injury (elbows) and Federer’s newfound dominance over Nadal, suddenly the prospect of 19 Grand Slams doesn’t seem out of the question. All the cards are falling for Federer right now, if he stays injury free through Wimbledon and New York this season could turn out to be one of the best of his career.