Not so long ago, the phrase ‘shock grand slam victory’ would never have been used in connection with Roger Federer.
The sublime talents of the Swiss star saw him amass 17 titles at the big four tennis tournaments – Wimbledon and the Australian, French and US Opens.
But he hadn’t won one since Wimbledon 2012 and, at the age of 35, retirement looked more likely than another slam triumph.
But surprise exits for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in Melbourne last month helped both Federer and old rival Rafael Nadal reach the final.
Federer beat the Spaniard 6–4, 3–6, 6–1, 3–6, 6–3 to make it slam No.18 – four ahead of Nadal and Pete Sampras.
But was his win simply an unexpected bonus? A lucky last hurrah for possibly the greatest player the men’s game has ever seen?
You would be forgiven for thinking that his triumph at the Australian Open will be his last. Surely Federer’s physical abilities are only declining whilst the competition remains as fierce as ever?
“Fast surfaces suit older players, with shorter rallies and more emphasis on serving consistently well – one of Federer’s best attributes”
He could, though, be a dark horse at this year’s Wimbledon, where a record eighth singles title at the famous tournament beckons.
Federer may need a bit of luck again, but he has show that on faster surfaces he is still a formidable foe.
He definitely won’t be the bookies’ favourite in SW19, but that is something that could play into his hands.
Weirdly, the Swiss suits the role of the underdog. An understated player, he has always gone about his business in a quiet, unspectacular but smoothly efficient manner, with an incredible ability to come back from the brink.
Athough Djokovic and Murray are still expected to dominate this year, they faltered in the early rounds in Australia on the new Plexicushion surface, which returned court speeds to that of the early 2000s.
And while Federer not have the legs he used to, he showed he still has intelligence which has made him so deadly across the 19-year span of his career.
Fast surfaces suit older players, with shorter rallies and more emphasis on serving consistently well – one of Federer’s best attributes.
As Wimbledon’s grass courts get harder and more worn as the tournament progresses, they play faster, and the ‘Fed Express’ can still thrive on the green stuff.
Grass is also less predictable, and losses of concentration see upsets and giant-killings happen every year. The hugely experienced Swiss is still seemingly less susceptible to these – and is also capable of throwing a few surprises into his game.
What’s fairly certain is that, ahead of Wimbledon, Federer won’t add another French Open crown to his sole victory at Roland Garros in 2009.
“Will the 2017 Australian Open be his last-ever grand slam? I wouldn’t bet on it…”
The clay courts in Paris are much slower and take away the advantage of a good serve, benefitting instead those who can slug it out in long rallies from the baseline.
An early exit there is likely for Federer, as it’s his least-favourite surface, but this will give him more time to prepare for Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, Djokovic, Murray and the rejuvenated Nadal, 30 – who has won a record nine French titles – are expected to go further, and potentially have to slog their way through several long, gruelling contests.
Adding to his grand slam tally is still going to be a big ask for Federer. He turns 36 in August, but is fresh after sitting out the second half of 2016 with the first serious injury of his career.
At 35, he certainly cannot match the speed of Murray or the power of Djokovic. But his speed of thought and grace under pressure mean he is still a threat.
Will the 2017 Australian Open be his last-ever grand slam? I wouldn’t bet on it…