Tonight, for the first time since 2005, Federer will be playing at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. Is this a tactic to help him reclaim the World No.1 ranking? Federer’s relationship with that coveted top ranking has seen some roller-coaster times the last few years.
2009 was an incredibly dramatic year for Roger. There was the emotional breakdown in Melbourne, the dream run in Paris, the suspense in London and the astonishing anti-climax in New York. By the end of the year, he had won the Career Slam. He had won the most Grand Slams in the history of the sport. He had become the greatest of all time. And crucially, he was back as World No. 1, inching ever closer to Pete Sampras’s record of 286 weeks atop the ATP rankings. Federer had the right to claim 2009 as one of the best tennis seasons ever.
However, Federer’s not-so-glorious run in 2010 threatened to derail his mission to break Sampras’s record of most weeks as No.1. A string of patchy performances meant that half-way into the second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, Federer had to necessarily win his quarter-final match to go ahead of Sampras.
Of course, that was famously not to be. Rafael Nadal won the French Open and reclaimed the No. 1 spot and left Federer agonizingly short of the record. Having spent 285 weeks at the top, Roger must have surely felt the pinch of being stopped just one week short of the record.
Then in 2011, Novak Djokovic gave the word ‘dominance’ a whole new meaning, and for the first time since he began playing at the top, he started consistently defeating both Roger and Rafa. By the end of the year, tennis had a new World No. 1.
So now in 2012, though by no means done and dusted, Federer finds himself more than 5000 points behind Djokovic. He is still No. 3 in the world, with Nadal being the other player ahead of him. With age not being on his side and the top two being so highly consistent and dominating, all the factors are against him making another run for the top. But Federer does want to get back to No. 1. And he seems to have discovered a way to narrow the gap.
At the ATP-500 level tournament in Rotterdam, his toughest opponents will probably be Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro. Which means Federer has an excellent chance of winning the tournament and eating a bit into the lead that the top two have over him. This is, seemingly, a pretty good tactic. Federer’s effortless style allows him to play plenty of matches and tournaments without subjecting his body to much stress. In contrast, the two players ranked above him put in so much hard work into each match they play that having more tournaments on their schedule would be almost kamikaze.
Although a few extra tournaments probably won’t be sufficient to close the huge gap between Federer and Djokovic-Nadal (at best, he can accumulate around 1500 points through these small tournaments), it is certainly the best way forward. If he can combine a good run here with some victories in the Masters 1000 tournaments or the Slams, then could come within snapping distance of Djokovic and Nadal. Of course, for that to happen, what will also have to necessarily happen is for one of these two let up at some point in the season. Djokovic has a monumental 8800 points to defend for the rest of the season, while Nadal has around 5500 points to guard, so a tiny slip-up from either could push them back quite a bit.
In all of his interviews, Federer has made it apparent that he is still hungry for achievement. He is determined to get to the top. With the Olympics, which are being held on his favorite hunting ground (Wimbledon) also on his schedule, 2012 could well end up being Roger Federer‘s year. And if that does happen, he will almost certainly have conquered that one last week in his bid to overtake Sampras.
As I said before, don’t miss this year for the world!