Roger Federer cruised to his second title of the year in Indian Wells last weekend without dropping a set. The Swiss legend will turn 36 in August. Thus, it would be startling to see him dominate 2017 the way he did the mid-2000s, but that scenario is becoming increasingly likely. Here is why.
He is healthy, his Main Competition is not
Most folks were writing off an aging and injured Federer a year ago at this time as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ran rough shot over the rest of the tour. Things have really changed in a year. Federer has notched his 18th grand slam singles title after six months of intense knee rehab while Djokovic and Murray are in disarray.
Both the Serb and the Brit pulled out of the Miami Open this week citing elbow injuries. They also both have flopped out early in the two biggest events of the young season. In the case of Djokovic, his slump dates back to right after winning the French Open in June.
He has won just two events since then and failed to reach the second week in two of three Grand Slams played. No one knows exactly what is going on. The elbow injury is a new wrinkle to the public. Reports of marital problems have been running rampant since August. No matter how you slice it, all is not well with Djokovic at the moment.
Murray is in a momentary dip. The Australian Open and Indian Wells did not go well for Murray. However, he played five consecutive events at the backend of 2016, a year that had already seen him raise his second Wimbledon trophy. There is virtually no offseason in tennis so a hangover from that is perfectly reasonable. Murray saw a chance to take the top ranking from Djokovic late last year and took it.
The injury is the cause for concern in the Murray camp. He reported no issues in Indian Wells. The clay court season looms following Miami.
Clay is extremely grueling on the body. It tends to make any injury worse, not better. Murray has a good chunk of time to get healthy before the first big event on clay. The fact that he is not healthy ahead of the most physically demanding part of the year is not a good sign.
No athlete ever wants to see a fellow competitor injured. However, all this bodes really well for Federer. Even when he has played poorly in recent years, it has still been pretty rare to see him drop matches to guys not named Djokovic, Murray or Nadal. Moreover, poorly is the last word anyone would use to describe Federer’s play right now. Speaking of Nadal…
Federer is Playing Nadal as Well as he Ever Has
Nadal leads his all-time series with Federer 23-13, but dig deeper. Federer has won three consecutive meetings with the Spanish lefty for the first time in his career. His one-handed backhand has always been a liability against the incredible topspin and high bounces of Nadal. Federer has been much more aggressive with that shot recently.
Federer always tinkered with his game and coaching team, even when he was at his best. The 2017 version of each is really paying off for Federer, particularly in terms of Nadal.
Nadal has won nine titles in 12 attempts on the clay courts of Roland Garros over the years, mostly at Federer’s expense. Federer has only one French Open title to his name. However, if the two were to play anywhere other than there tomorrow, it would be hard not to view Federer as the favorite.
Things can change quickly in any sport, and tennis is no exception. After the first week of the 2017 season, I wrote an article about how Djokovic and Murray would be head and shoulders above the competition again this season. About eight weeks later, that looks like one of the most ridiculous things ever written.
Maybe Djokovic and Murray find their health and good form as quickly as they lost it. Maybe Nadal reasserts his mastery of Federer. Maybe one of the young guns steps up.
It is Federer’s world for now and we are all just living in it. There is no reason to think that will change this week in Miami. Furthermore, with one already down, there is a real chance Federer wins three of the four Grand Slams in 2017.