What a start to 2017 for Roger Federer. Who would have believed it? Just look at what he’s already accomplished:
Federer won the Australian Open for the first time since 2010.
Federer won Indian Wells for the first time since 2012.
Federer won Miami for the first time since 2006.
Federer swept Indian Wells and Miami for the third time in his career, first time since 2006 and he won the first three big events for just the second time in his career after 2006.
And Federer beat Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon final. And then he went on to beat Rafa two more times, doing it quite easily!
Oh, and he’s 35, has four kids and he’s coming off a 6-month knee injury. So really, how is this happening?
1. It’s The Racquet, Stupid
Yes, the backhand. Yes, the return. But some credit for those improved shots has to go to his racquet switch at the start of 2014.
My guess is had Federer not have re-injured his knee at Wimbledon we would have seen this form much sooner. It just took some extra time, some extra calibration for him to get completely comfortable with the larger frame and now, as we can see, things are clicking.
And once his major weakness — the backhand — becomes a strength, then everything else benefits. If you play tennis, you know when your worst shot starts working, wow does that lift your game. That’s happening with Roger.
2. Time Away
Had he not taken six months off would he be this damn good? Maybe, maybe not. But by getting away from the game, Federer came back fully recharged with a renewed zest for the sport. And it shows. He’s having fun out there, and there’s little pressure — who really expected this from him so soon, if ever again?
That time off also allowed him to get a better feel from the racquet and maybe address some physical areas that needed strengthening. Is his right arm stronger than its ever been? (To hit that one-handed backhand, it needs to be strong!)
3. No Novak, No Murray
Through the first three months, Federer got lucky and avoided the Top 2 in the world, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. I feel had Federer ran into one of them in Melbourne or even at Indian Wells or Miami, things may not have gone his way.
Granted, both are not playing well but I think they would have risen up to the challenge in facing the Swiss. Djokovic’s had his share of success against Roger on hardcourts and Murray’s got a few wins. So Federer’s fortunate that both are struggling, but I am looking forward to the day when they do play — probably will have to wait until Wimbledon semifinals in July!
4. You Just Can’t Teach Poise
Has there ever been a player so calm, so confident when having or facing match points? That doesn’t go away after time off. Roger has it and in those crucial moments like against Rafa in that fifth set, or against Berdych and Kyrgios in Miami, Federer still knows how to come through. What an asset to have.
A perfect time for Federer to come back is at the start of the year when the tour is on hardcourts and many players just aren’t in full flight after the holidays. So had he come back at Indian Wells or Miami, that gets a little tougher.
6. His Team
Severin, Ivan, Pierre, etc. There are no issues in that camp, and there never really are. It’s one mission and everyone’s on the same page.
Amazing that Federer came in at the right time with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic floundering. What were the odds that neither Murray nor Djokovic would reach even reach a final in Melbourne/Indian Wells/Miami? That’s almost as stunning as Federer’s return!
As for the rest, there’s Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka. Nadal isn’t what he used to be and Roger’s deep in Stan’s head. The young guns like Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev are still evolving and Juan Martin Del Potro still needs some seasoning.
Plus, Roger got a much-needed decent early draw in Australia having to face qualifier Jurgen Melzer followed by Noah Rubin. Then the mentally-weak Berdych who rolled over after the first game. So Roger had some time to find his footing before the second part of the tournament.
And the weather was quite pleasant in Melbourne as it was at Indian Wells and Miami.
So Federer’s timing is, as usual, impeccable. But having Lady Luck on your side always helps!
I read what Janko Tipsarevic said, and I agree had Novak been in his early 2016 form, I don’t think Federer beats him in Melbourne, but I’d give Roger a decent shot at Indian Wells.
And as I said, the court speed in Australia helped Roger, but I don’t put a lot of stock in that. Not anymore after seeing how Roger has played at Indian Wells and Miami. Remember, Rafa was up a break in the fifth and lost. That’s not court speed! That’s mental.
So what’s to come? Well, Roger’s on a well-earned break. Might he come back for Rome? He might if he gets the itch. Otherwise, we’ll see him give it a go at the French, where again expectations — just as they were in Melbourne — will be low (funny how he’s able to do that).
That all changes on the grass where right now you’d have to make him the favorite. At least I do.
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