Can Roger Federer become world Number One in 2018?
He is now 36 years old, but he doesn't look like he will slow down anytime soon. Normally when a tennis player crosses the age of 30, you would expect a decline in performances as age catches up. This is true for most sports: the grind, the travel, the loneliness, the injuries get to them all!
Very few players have managed to stay injury free in their late 30s and even fewer have consistently produced results in their 30s to stay at the top of the game.
We have a few examples in tennis; The Williams sisters have continued to deliver well beyond the age of 35. Martina Navratilova retired at the age of 46, Jimmy Connors managed to play well beyond the age of 40, but his last grand slam victory came at the 1983 US Open at the age of 31.
What makes Roger Federer so special?
When Federer won Wimbledon in 2017, he was almost 36 years old. Every time he has been written off, he has silenced his critics with a major title. In the past few years, the way he has adapted his playing style and kept in shape has astonished admirers, peers, and critics alike.
The Swiss master had faced a backlash when he missed the clay court season in 2017. He then made a triumphant return at Wimbledon, winning his 8th title at the All England Club with his now-customary combination of grace and steel.
This is the most surprising aspect of the genius that is Federer - how someone who has achieved everything possible in his career is still able to travel the world, keep himself fit AND win against the best players even at the age of 36!
A single-minded focus has helped him ward off all distractions. More than his beautiful playing style, his sheer will to dominate the opponents (his “inner warrior”) never gets enough credit.
It takes a lot of focus and determination to do what Federer does, at the age that he is doing it and most importantly, the consistency with which he does it. Even after owning almost every record in the books, he continues with the unbridled passion of a teenager.
How has Roger Federer kept himself fit?
At the center of any player’s longevity is his fitness. The key to Federer’s fitness is his 17-year long professional relationship with his fitness coach Pierre Paganini.
When you read Paganini’s interview to New York Times, it becomes very evident what habits keep him in his best shape physically and mentally.
According to Paganini, when Federer is prescribed a plan he doesn’t just do it, he understands the reason behind doing it. When you do something with an awareness, it makes you more focused and enthusiastic doing it; you know why you are doing it and you respect your own efforts.
It allows you to control the outcome and push yourself when needed.
“He’s not someone who consumes. He’s someone who creates.” - Paganini on Federer’s secrets to success
Federer is also an incredibly hard worker who understands the importance of rest at the macro (between tournaments) and micro (between sets and games) levels.
As fans and spectators, we see only the outward persona, his beautiful (almost poetic) gameplay, but we underestimate the amount of work that goes into producing a performance of that calibre.
However, there is a huge difference between producing a splendid performance in just one final and doing it for over 40 weeks a year. For Paganini, that difference is his charge's enduring passion for the game.
At heart, Federer is a creative man and Paganini admits that training him is very demanding because his exercises can’t be the same old, boring routine every time.
Can he make a run for the number one position in 2018?
Currently, Roger stands as world Number Two with 9605 points behind arch-rival Rafa Nadal who is at Number One with 10645. The difference (1040 points) can be erased by a single grand slam final appearance - it rewards 1200 points.
It’s not as easy as it sounds though - Roger’s fate is tied to Nadal’s form as well as his own consistency.
Last year, Nadal reached the 3rd round at the Brisbane Open and reached the final at the Australian Open. He has a total of 1245 points to defend in the month of January.
Roger didn’t play any point-rewarding warm-up events before the Australian Open in 2017. He has to gain all of his 2000 points from his Australian Open win in January.
In 2018, immediately after the Hopman Cup, Roger plans to move to Melbourne to prepare for the Grand Slam. By withdrawing from Brisbane (and Doha) citing a recurring right knee injury, Nadal has already lost 45 points and now has to ensure that he defends all of his 1200 points at the Australian Open. This looks difficult as, given his current injury status, his participation is in doubt.
That means that for Nadal to maintain his number one ranking, he has to at least reach the final which will take place on the 28th of January.
If Nadal withdraws from the tourney and if Federer maintains his form, he i.e. Federer can defend his Australian Open crown and regain the number one ranking.
Despite having won two slams at the age of 35, Federer is only the second oldest Open era Grand Slam winner. That record belongs to Ken Rosewall who won the 1972 Australian Open at the age of 37 years.