I’ll come out and say this now before my bias becomes evident. Roger Federer is my hero. Class and coolness personified as well as being the most talented human to ever hold a racket. His resurgence this year, at the age of 35, is unbelievable until you consider who you’re talking about. Should we really have written him off? Did we really think he was finished at 17 Grand Slams? You could be forgiven for believing so. Before this year’s Australian Open he hadn’t won a Grand Slam since 2012. There were chances since then, in 2014 and 2015 he lost Wimbledon finals to Novak Djokovic. He also lost out to Djokovic in the 2015 US Open final. Though he maintained a top 10 world ranking and was contesting finals, many believed he’d never win another one. He was getting to the dance alright but the younger Murray and Djokovic had broken through and were compiling their own résumés of Grand Slams. It seemed time to pass the torch.
At the start of the year I thought Federer could win another Wimbledon title. I admit it was probably more in hope than expectation but I thought if he got a favourable draw, avoided Nadal and wasn’t too spent before a final, I thought he could take down Murray or Djokovic. Even in his mid 30’s, even after an injury plagued 2016, I thought he could do it. Then the 2017 Australian Open happened! A break down to Nadal in the fifth set and it was looking all too familiar. The Spaniard, his cyrptonite, whom he hadn’t beaten in a Grand Slam event since 2007, was going to outlast him again. I’ll repeat that. Federer hadn’t beaten him in a Grand Slam event since 2007! You thought, ok, if Roger could get it done, it would have to be four sets. If it goes to five, Nadal has the stamina, the mental edge, the track record. Yet it went to five and Federer prevailed, in what was a record 9th Grand Slam final between the two. Federer was the 17th seed, aged 35 and had just won his 18th Grand Slam title. Unbelievable, gimme back that torch. I was in a dressing room in Stade Mario Goretti, Catania, Sicily. I was following the live scoring on my phone. Deuce, advantage Federer, deuce, advantage Federer. I was hopping around. My heart. My teammates had never seen me this excited before a game. “Pazzo Irlandese, crazy Irish”. Thankfully it was game, set and match before we had to take to the pitch, or else someone else would have had to kickoff.
Federer has backed up that Melbourne performance capturing ATP titles at Indian Wells and Miami, defeating Nadal twice again along the way, including the final in Miami. Was the Australian Open a monkey off the back, has Roger exorcised his Spanish demon? It remains to be seen, but with Roland Garros around the corner, Nadal will take comfort on clay and look to add to his French Open haul. Roland Garros, where once he was invincible, now I wonder. There are many who believe Federer can win it, Rod Laver for one. Novak Djokovic just this week sacked his coaching team, some amongst whom had been with him from the start of his career. He’s searching for form and is vulnerable. Andy Murray hasn’t set 2017 alight, despite winning in Dubai he had some early exits this year but still holds on to the number one world ranking spot. Nadal has to be favoured on clay but it appears his nearest challenger is Federer. The greatest rivalry in tennis is reignited.
If Nadal conquers Roland Garros as many expect, it could be one grand slam each heading to Wimbledon. If Federer adds to his seven Wimbledon titles, he’ll go ahead of Sampras for most all time. Two big ‘ifs’, I’m aware, but that’s what the form guide is saying. If I’m a betting man I fancy Federer at Wimbledon. In a year where he’s already won his 18th, the Patriots came back in the Superbowl and Sergio Garcia won a major….it’s just got a feel about it.