Like almost every other Grand Slam for the last 10-12 years, the men’s field at Wimbledon this year was and is about the “Big Four” of Roger Federer. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal. Yet as just four men remain in the tournament, Federer is the only one of the four left standing.
It is almost impossible to add enough context and find adequate words to describe how amazing that is. However, I am going to try. Here is why Wimbledon 2017 may be Federer’s greatest masterpiece yet, no matter the outcome.
A year ago, he was all but done:
Last year at this time, Federer lost a five set Wimbledon semifinal to Milos Raonic. Days later he announced that he would not play competitive tennis again until 2017 in order to properly rehab a knee injury suffered at home with his daughters.
Djokovic and Murray dominated the tour for the bulk of Federer’s absence. Given that and the fact that Federer was coming off the first known major injury of his stellar career, expectations were understandably modest for the 35 year old in 2017. Many were even more skeptical when Federer announced he would play what basically amounted to a limited schedule to manage his body. Well, all he has done is win four of six events played including his 18th major in Australia.
Additionally, Federer now sits as a massive favorite to add to the above numbers at Wimbledon. As great as he is, no one saw Federer dominating in 2017 the way he did in 2007. His graceful playing style that tends to end points within five strokes along with his exemplary net play has extended his career as a force at the top of the game beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
As his chief rivals break down, he is coasting along:
Djokovic and Murray are 30 years old, Nadal 31. They all play a much more physical brand of tennis than their Swiss rival. Nowhere has that been more evident than at this year’s Wimbledon. Nadal seemed to run out of gas in his fourth round five set loss to big serving lefty Gilles Müller. Murray and Djokovic fell in the quarterfinals clearly hampered by hip and elbow injuries respectively.
Meanwhile, Federer has coasted into the semis without dropping a set or breaking a sweat. Murray and Djokovic have dealt with injuries all year long. Nadal played three clay court tune up events leading up to his unprecedented 10th French Open title. While skipping the entire clay court season like Federer did is drastic, it clearly worked for him. Perhaps one less event leading into the French Open would have helped Nadal, Djokovic and/or Murray at Wimbledon.
Clay is Federer’s worst surface and the most physically demanding. Federer’s choice to pass on the French Open and its lead in events could not have been easy, but it was obviously the right one. He finds himself in the semis of Wimbledon. His fiercest rivals who are half a decade younger are already on flights home. That fact, when put into this sort of context, makes this Wimbledon Federer’s best ever, even if he does not get his fairytale ending.