He’s not back. Roger Federer never left. He has rough patches and slumps, but despite his age, the burdens of family life and the injuries that keep coming to nag him from time to time, the greatest player in the history of Tennis, fresh of his first Masters title (Cincinnati) in exactly two years, looks finally like someone who can win a Grand Slam, the up & coming US Open, again.
Federer won just one tournament in 2013 – the Halle Open. He also reached two finals in Rome and Switzerland, but that was it. And while 2014 hasn’t brought him any new Grand Slam success, it’s clear he is different shape and form as opposed to last year: Three titles and counting (Dubai, Halle, Cincinnati) and finals at Brisbane, Indian Wells, Monte-Carlo, Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.
So is Federer ready to win number 18? Hold on. There’s a big difference between Federer in a best of three match, where his age doesn’t show as he doesn’t have time to build up fatigue, and in a five set match. Since winning Wimbledon in 2012, Federer hasn’t been past the quarterfinals in Queens and has only been to one Grand Slam final, this year, and that was on grass. He has two more semifinal appearances in Australia. In short, the deck is stacked against him.
There’s also a question of who has he beaten recently. At Wimbledon, it was Stanislas Wawrinka and Milos Raonic who are worth mentioning before hitting the roadblock names Novak Djokovic. In Toronto, he beat David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez before the loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. He went through a tough draw in Cincinnati, beating Gael Monfils, Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and eventually David Ferrer in order to come up with the title, the 80th of his career.
How has he done against Djokovic and Rafael Nadal this year? Against Djokovic, he does well in the best of three. He’s beaten him in Dubai and Monte Carlo, but lost to him in the Indian Wells and Wimbledon final. Against Nadal it hasn’t been that wonderful: He has lost his last five matches to Nadal, including a three set loss in Australia back when the season just started.
And for the US Open? Nadal hasn’t played since losing in the fourth round at Wimbledon. He builds his season to be at his peak when the Roland Garros comes along. His body doesn’t hold on for a long season with a few physical peaks in it, and there’s a chance he doesn’t appear at all to the US Open. Djokovic looked bad in both Toronto and Cincinnati, losing twice in the third round without winning a set in both matches.
This might be the best opportunity for Federer, recently turned 33, to add another Grand Slam title to his trophy cabinet. It’s not just about the top three – Wawrinka is a threat, and so are Raonic, Murray and Tsonga. However, titles in majors usually got to an elite few, and right now it’s a very short list. This isn’t the Wimbledon grass where Federer feels at his most comfortable, but it’s been six years since he last won the US Open title, and it’s been at least two years since he’s entered the tournament with so much going well for him.