Roger Federer still has one more in the tank
Last month’s news and this week’s reality that Roger Federer has missed the US Open and 2016 Olympics may seem like the light at the end of the tunnel for arguably the greatest male tennis player of all time. He just turned 35, and has not won a Major title since 2012. It’s only natural to assume Federer has reached his last Final, or even Semi-Final at a Major event.
After Wimbledon this year, Federer said that winning is “not my only reason why I play tennis, just to be clear, otherwise I’ll go in a freeze box now and come out before Wimbledon next year…I know Wimbledon is important, but it’s not everything, everything. There are a lot of things that I’d like to achieve besides winning Wimbledon.” It’s only natural to think that he is too old to make a full recovery, and-even if he does- won’t have the overall game to remain in top 5 or 10. After all, the only male tennis player to have won multiple Major titles in his 30s is Andre Agassi-and his last was at 32 years old.
Even if he makes a full return, it’s hard to see him beating Novak Djokovic, who has come close to dominating him these past 3 or 4 years as Nadal did the previous 3 or 4. But it seems as foolish to county out Federer as it would to count out Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, or any other sports great. Despite facing a difficult road from recovery, it’s actually likely this absence from tennis will more to ensure he wins at least one more championship.
Adaptability: Federer’s fundamental style of tennis has always been beautiful to watch, just like his textbook forehand, backhand, slice, and footwork. His 2015 US Open run to the Final was attributed to his new and completely original return-and-volley based Sneak Attack By Roger (S.A.B.R.) technique, where he charge the net and hit fluid approach shots to force his opponents into returns up the center where he’d hit winners on his second stroke. He even used this against 6–8 John Isner.
Work ethic: Federer has already like a fine wine. While his game and athleticism have slowly declined over the past few years, he is still an extremely active player. This year’s knee injury was the first serious injury of his career, and less than five months after having meniscus surgery in February, he reached the semi-finals in Wimbledon in peak physical condition. His heartbreaking loss to the less well-rounded Milos Raonic was due more to a few careless errors at the worst possible time than to fitness. He still moves and hits more fluidly than the 25 year old serving machine.
Assuming he can return to 95% health and can withstand 4 set matches (If the match goes to a 5th set, his physical fitness will need to be 100% or 110% to win, as is the case with every older player in the history) I honestly think he can reclaim his place in the top 4 rankings. I am more sure of him being in the top 4 at 2017’s end than I am about other members of the big 4. Nadal is too beat up, and already hit 30 year old. Murray and Djokovic will both be 30 before the next Wimbledon, which happens to be Federer’s best event, historically. That stat about Agassi is important to remember here. Murray has had more health problems than Federer or Djokovic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he begins losing before the quarter final stage of some Majors (as Djokovic did at Wimbledon this year). Djokovic, despite his great shotmaking, probably relies more on his athleticism than Federer or Murray, and if his knees start to creek during his full speed splits, and he is able to hit only 70 or 80% of those astonishing shots
then he too will start appearing in fewer and fewer Finals and Semi-Finals.
Of course, this run era of the current Big 4 (Big 3 if you take out Nadal) has already lasted 8 or 10 years, which is unprecedented. Surely new top players will emerge, like Raonic, but it’s hard to see any of them steam rolling through 2017 Majors the way Federer, Djokovic and Murray have done the past few years.
Am I predicting Roger Federer will win Wimbledon 2017, or any other Major in particular? No. But I believe he will reach at least 1 Final next year, and he won’t waste it.