"Federer Rescued Tennis"
Marco Falbo, Journalist
Roger Federer is in an ideal position after a series of victories ahead of the season's highlights such as Paris, Wimbledon and the Olympics, and he could well regain the no. 1 ranking. Even Pat Cash, numbered among his harshest critics, has now come out as one of the Swiss player's fans.
After his victory at the Indian Wells tournament in California in March 2012 when he equaled Rafael Nadal's record of 19 masters titles – or perhaps somewhat earlier – Roger Federer regained his standing as the best player of modern times. Following the US Open in 2011, he seems to have found the switch that allows him to turn back time. He went on to win 39 out of 41 matches and six out of eight tournaments, including the ATP World Tour Finals in London. In the semi-final at Indian Wells, he celebrated his first victory over Rafael Nadal at an open-air hard court tournament in seven years, and in the final he beat John Isner, who had previously trounced Federer in a Davis Cup match for the first time in nine years.
Starting From A Position Where All Dreams Can Come True
Shortly before the "summer of the century" in 2012 featuring the Olympic tournament at Wimbledon, Federer is therefore in an excellent position and his form allows him to dream of the greatest successes yet; he ranks among the handful of leading title contenders, with further grand slam wins, victory in the Olympics and a return to the no. 1 spot all within the bounds of possibility. His starting position recalls the time nine years ago when he was on top form just before his breakthrough: Now, once again, he is the challenger who is gunning for the players ranked ahead of him; this time, their names are Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The difference is that he now knows how dangerous he is, and what he is capable of. His self-confidence could hardly be greater after his latest successes, although more than two years have passed since he won the last of his 16 grand slam titles (at the Australian Open in 2010).
Cutting His Own Path With No Compromises
His tournament schedule also reflects his level of self-confidence. Federer resisted the massive temptation to abandon his original plans and make an early start in the clay season at Monte Carlo (from 15 April onwards). The Principality would have offered him the chance to narrow the gap at the top and edge Nadal out of second place. Federer also turned down the enticing offer of an exhibition match against Nadal between Wimbledon and the Olympics in Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium, which (with Djokovic as his replacement) will probably attract the largest gate ever for a tennis match. Federer made these decisions because he sees the larger picture, and is not prepared to brook any compromises as he prepares for the highlights of the French Open (starting on 28 May), Wimbledon (from June 25 onwards) and the Olympics (from July 29 until August 5). In retrospect, Switzerland's Davis Cup defeat at the hands of the US and Federer's unfortunate early ouster by Andy Roddick in Miami (which ended a series of 16 match wins) also turn out to have favored the Swiss star. These setbacks left him with six weeks in March and April to prepare for this three-month phase, which will count as one of the most important in his entire career. This luxury was not granted to Djokovic or to Nadal, who has two titles to defend in Monte Carlo and Barcelona even before Federer opens his clay season in Madrid at the start of May.
"The Tennis Tour Would Be Boring Without Federer"
Federer's return to a winning streak, after nine months in 2011 when he failed to win a single tournament, has delighted his hordes of fans throughout the world as well as many experts on the game. Australia's Pat Cash is without doubt one of the harshest critics of this exceptional performer. But during the Zurich Open, which is one of the stops on the ATP Champions Tour, the 1987 Wimbledon champion also voiced his high esteem for Federer in no uncertain terms. "Without Federer, the tennis tour would not be interesting," Cash commented. "I regard him as the most interesting player, and the only one with a somewhat different style – he is a master of every stroke." Cash even went so far as to say: "Roger has rescued tennis, in the same way as Agassi saved the sport in the 1990s." In the 1980s, Cash himself was one of the most aggressive and offensive players, and one of the last who would uncompromisingly move up to the net. For years, he bemoaned the fact that Federer was not ready to step into his shoes and carry on the tradition of serve-and-volley players. "Federer is actually an excellent volleyer, and he used to get much closer to the net at the start of his career. But then he lost some of his confidence. Especially against stronger opponents, he likes to revert to his old style," Cash notes. But he also admits that it was bad luck for Federer when the courts and the balls became slower and slower, leaving more time for opponents forced on to the defensive to fight back.
More Offensive, More Dangerous, More Unpredictable
Based on what he has seen, Cash now believes that at 30, Federer is playing more aggressively and offensively again – and this has made him more unpredictable. Cash is not surprised that the Basel-born star contested his last grand slam final on clay at Roland Garros (where he made Nadal fight to the last in 2011): "The French Open changed over to new, faster balls last year. This was one of the best innovations for tennis, because it gives all-round players such as Roger the chance to win tournaments like these." The Swiss champion can volley magnificently, and he has an excellent backhand slice, Cash enthuses. "I'm absolutely delighted that he is playing more offensively again nowadays." Cash is convinced: "Federer can become even better. I hope that he's able to play until he is 35. Because he's the one I like to watch most."
On the Way To the Top
The fact that Roger Federer is still no. 3 in the world rankings behind Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal can be blamed on the results for spring and summer 2011, when he failed to win any titles. With 9,035 points, mid-April finds him still a good way behind Wimbledon and US Open champion Novak Djokovic (with 12,670), but he is already breathing down the neck of Paris victor Rafael Nadal (who has 9,935). Since the US Open, Federer has been able to cut Djokovic's lead over him from 6,340 to 3,635 points, and he has reduced Nadal's advantage from 2,240 to 900.
It says a lot for the Swiss star that he won by far the largest number of points between the US Open in 2011 and April 2012: 5,855 as opposed to 4,100 for Djokovic and 2,920 for Nadal. This means that he has built an excellent basis to regain the no. 1 position this summer, provided that he wins another major title. Nadal and Djokovic will be under enormous pressure in the coming months. The Spaniard, who has not scored a tournament victory since the French Open in 2011, has to defend 5,945 points up to and including Wimbledon; the Serb needs 4,970, while Federer only needs 2,190. If he succeeds in winning his seventh title at Wimbledon, his name would be highly likely to grace the no. 1 spot again on July 9. At the same time, this would enable him to equal the record set by Pete Sampras, who spent 286 weeks at the top – one week more than Federer. Even if he fails to accomplish this mission, Federer could have further opportunities in late summer – as long as he can maintain his form.