What’s next for Roger Federer?
Roger Federer, a father of four who last year took six months off work to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery, has won the 2017 Australian Open – where three matches went to five sets – to hoist the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for a fifth time. In the process, he has defied age, critics, seeding and logic, and reaffirmed the brilliant, hopeless romance of sport.
When the time comes to weigh the greatest achievements of Roger Federer’s glittering Grand Slam career, certain moments will always resonate above all others.
There is that first Wimbledon victory back in 2003, which preceded a four-year hegemony over the men’s game that saw him surge to 11 majors by the age of 25. In 2007 he won the Australian Open without losing a set, before matching Bjorn Borg’s sequence of five straight Wimbledon titles;
Then came the fateful midseason of 2009, when in the space of a month he completed his career Grand Slam at Roland Garros before claiming his 15th major at Wimbledon, surpassing Sampras’s trophy haul in the process.
Even in such company, the six-month layoff that preceded this seven-match surge at Australian Open 2017 might well be considered among the grandest of his 18 slams.
At 35, Federer is now the oldest Grand Slam champion in his own lifetime. Australia’s Ken Rosewall is the only other man to claim majors in the Open era after his 35th birthday, the last of which came at the 1972 US Open at the age of 37.
Only two men in Open Era history have waited longer for their next Grand Slam title. Seventeen majors have passed since Wimbledon 2012, eclipsing the 16-Slam gap between Andre Agassi’s victories at the 1995 Australian Open and 1999 French Open.
Not since 1982 has a man defeated four top-10 seeds to win a major. Mats Wilander beat Ivan Lendl, Vitas Gerulaitis, Jose Luis Clerc and Guillermo Vilas to win the French Open that year; Federer has beaten Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and now Rafael Nadal.
That it should be Nadal who stood between Federer and this unlikeliest of triumphs only serves to add to its legend. The 14-time Grand Slam champion has long dominated his rivalry with the Swiss, an authority that reached far beyond his clay court prowess in their 35 meetings.
However, Roger Federer’s 2017 Australian Open win over Rafael Nadal did more than show that the legends are not through competing for Grand Slam titles. They proved the importance of rest and recovery to perform at their absolute best levels. There is clearly a blueprint on how aging stars should prioritize their schedules.
Surprisingly, Federer had to take a page from Nadal’s playbook. Last year, the Swiss Maestro was unable to compete at his best after knee surgery. His season ended in the semifinals at Wimbledon, and he realized he would have to take time off, recover and plot his return in 2017.
“What I’ve just come to realize is when you don’t feel well, you have too many problems going on, you just won’t beat top-10 players. That’s where both, I guess, Rafa and myself said, ‘OK, enough of this already. Let’s get back to 100 percent, enjoy tennis again, enjoy the practice.’”
Federer’s spectacular 2017 Australian Open success was yesterday’s story, but in the future, it will impact Federer’s chances to win more majors and extend his lead at the top of the pile.
Skipping some stuff may be the best strategy going forward…
Federer’s already been scaling down his schedule in the past few years. No longer able to play 25 tournaments a year and lap the field for the No. 1 ranking, Federer has continued to play his best tournaments on faster court surfaces, including Dubai, Halle, Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the U.S. Open and the World Tour Finals in London.
Having opted not to play Rotterdam next week, Federer will participate in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami, according to the schedule on his official website.
The Swiss superstar has also been cutting out his clay-court appearances recently, and he’s expected to do so again. He likes Monte Carlo, but skipping Madrid and playing Rome might be all he wishes to do before the French Open. It’s the major he’s least likely to win, and he does not want to compromise his chances a few weeks later at Wimbledon.
Halle will definitely be on Federer’s radar in the grass court run up to Wimbledon, the most prestigious and his personal favorite tournament of them all.
It might also be best for Federer to skip the Rogers Cup that precedes Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open. It worked perfectly in 2015 when he plastered a weary Novak Djokovic in the final.
Federer’s chance is Wimbledon or the US Open
It’s unrealistic to speak about a solid run on the slower surfaces like clay, but Federer will have a real shot to win another Grand Slam on grass or hardcourt. Judging by the fact that US Open is located deep in the 2nd part of the season, factoring in fatigue and mental exhaustion, Wimbledon remains the best chance. The grass court is perfectly suited for Federer’s tennis approach which means shorter points and less time spent on the tennis court.
But only time will tell what more miracles Federer can pull off in the months to come.