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Is it time for Roger Federer's 18th Grand Slam?

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5.29K   //    03 Jul 2016, 20:00 IST
Roger Federer Wimbledon 2016
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We saw Wimbledon’s biggest shocker in some time with double defending champion Novak Djokovic knocked out by the big-serving Sam Querrey of the United States.

It wasn’t Querrey’s first victory over the Serb, but with Djokovic having won 8 of the pair’s 9 previous matches, it was anybody’s guess who would win that showdown...or not.

Nerves on edge. Bated breath. Pin-drop silence.

None of them featured in Day 1 of the Querrey-Djokovic match, one that would have gone all but unnoticed otherwise. Despite the presence of the top seed, the match was played on Court 1 instead of Centre Court.

And then, the 28th seed won a set. And then another set. Djokovic’s mood seemed as cloudy as the weather at the notoriously inclement English capital. And it was that weather that put paid to Querrey sealing victory on Day 1. The rain gods played spoilsport as the Djokovic-Querrey showdown was postponed to the next day.

“He’ll come back tomorrow,” most said, and indeed, they would not be remiss in believing that. Djokovic has made comebacks from being a set – or two – down. He may have finally taken his maiden French Open title this year, but in 2012, Djokovic was still struggling at Roland Garros. On that occasion, he was down two sets to love against Italy’s Andreas Seppi, trailing 4-6, 6-7 in a four hour match that had started as Djokovic’s to lose.

Djokovic was taxed similarly as recently as last year – with South African former top-10 player Kevin Anderson winning the first two sets against the Serb, who was also the defending champion then. Many said that in that match, it was Djokovic’s sheer self-belief and assurance that kept him in the fight. That time, he had looked in the fight.

Yesterday, he looked tired. Tired, flagging, and low on the electric energy he has normally shown, the Serb eventually lost, managing only to wrest a single set from his rival.

Following his loss, there was chatter that he was injured – rumours that would not be confirmed by anyone. But that brought one big question to everyone's lips, one that was on the cusp but that no one dared utter, in almost Voldemort-esque fashion.


Can Roger Federer win an 18th Grand Slam?

Federer is not the young, bouncy player he once was. He is still head and shoulders above most of the rest he is currently playing against, but this is a more mature, sedate version of the running Swiss we once knew.

He famously said this year that he “do[es] not care if I win more titles this year or not. It’s playing that makes me happy, and that’s what counts.” He remained unable to win a grass court title ahead of Wimbledon this season, but grass is his surface, and Wimbledon his stomping grounds. Federer has a mammoth seven titles at SW19, a record matched only by his idol Pete Sampras, and English player William Renshaw.

When the draws came out ahead of the touranment, fans were disappointed to not see the possibility of another Federer-Djokovic final, a la last year, with both players in the same half.

The Swiss sat out of the French Open with an injury, but before that had managed a decent semi-final finish; that was also the most recent time the Djokovic-Federer pair met at a Grand Slam.

Federer had managed to scalp a set off his younger competitor, with the pair’s rivalry neck-and-neck despite every mitigating factor.

Things may have not gone baaadly for the veritable GOAT, but they have not been going ideally; at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany, played on his favourite surface, and a tournament Federer has been fond of, he crashed out to German teen Alexander Zverev. Yes, Zverev has been in good form, he is tall, young and extremely agile. His limbs are younger than Federer’s older, more experienced ones and have not yet had to suffer the travails of the many injuries and surgeries the 34-year-old has.

He lost to the young Dominic Thiem on grass before that at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, a loss many say should ‘never have happened.’

But still, Federer’s game has the strategy, the class, the tactical mastery that few others have shown in the history of the game. The longtime serve-and-volley proponent may have shifted in the past few years to baseline play to adapt to the changing face of the modern day game, but he has exhibited in his prime the athleticism and speed the likes of Zverev now show, and his serve is clean, powerful and perfectly placed as ever. 

Zverev is still young and restless, and although he is in R3 at the Championships, he had a long-drawn 5-set struggle against a flagging Mikhail Youzhny. Yesterday, Zverev said in a statement he thought it was “easy” for Roger Federer.

After being taken to tiebreaks in his Wimbledon opener this year by Argentine Guido Pella, Federer took on two Britons back-to-back, beating each player in straight sets. First he beat Marcus Willis, the journeyman with the magical story, the surprise entrant into the singles main draw. The Swiss exhibited his characteristic class, walking off quietly after his victory to let the Briton enjoy his moment in the sun. And yet, it was Federer who shone. 

Federer last won a Grand Slam in 2012. That win was also at Wimbledon. He has been in three Grand Slam finals since, though, and lost to Djokovic every single time. The Serb is the (D)Joker to Federer’s Batman, and he’s one of the many rivals that has given Federer an athletic sprint for his money. 

There are younger rivals in his way, rivals who could give Federer some competition, and have beat him before. There’s the very talented Alexander Zverev. Australia’s ‘bad boy’ Nick Kyrgios. There’s 25-year-old Milos Raonic, who started the year with a title victory over Federer in Australia, but has had little to show for himself since, struggling with injury as he has in the past. 

Then there’s US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro, who is possibly the reason Federer still doesn’t have singles gold at the Olympics. But the tall Argentine, young as he is with his powerful forehand, has not seemed at his 100%. And given that his forehand is reliant on his right wrist, the injury that put Del Potro out of commission in the first place, the Argentine may not exactly be on course for a title win.

That said, watching him wrest control away from World No. 4 Stan Wawrinka, who has had both energy and fair form, was a thrilling watch. If nothing, he could at least pose a challenge.

Andy, Andy, when will those clouds all disappear?

But there’s one key figure who isn’t the proverbial ‘small fry’, and that’s 2013 WImbledon Andy Murray. He’s a home star, and has always had crowd support from, let’s face it, quite a partisan audience at SW19. The Scot has been in fine form lately, beating Djokovic on clay ahead of the French Open, then progressing all the way to the finals at Roland Garros too – and at one point, it even looked like Murray’s to lose.

Then, Murray took a record fifth title at the Queen’s Club Championships – proving he was in the form of his life on hard court, grass courts, clay, you name it. He’s been at the finals of both Grand Slams so far this year and he’s looking on track to do the same here.

He’s beat every opponent of his so far in absolutely convincing straight sets fashion, not dropping a sweat – or a set – en route. Given his form, Murray is both the bookies’ and fans’ favourite to run away with the Wimbledon title, and it’s not hard to see why as he enters the fourth round. 

Characteristically for the Scot, he was decidedly deadpan when questioned about Djokovic’s exit. “It doesn’t mean anything,” he told BBC Sport. ”At the end of the day I have to play well.”

Although Murray and Federer haven’t played against one another as many times as Djokovic and Federer have, their rivalry is still very close – but it’s tilted 14-11 in favour of the Swiss. Murray have been decent against Federer on grass, but will not be thrilled by the fact that the pair’s last Grand Slam meeting was also at Wimbledon – at the semi-finals in 2015, a contest Federer would win in straight sets.

The Scot famously looked to be in a winning position in the French Open final before Djokovic turned on the fireworks and Murray lost his bearings completely.

With Federer’s history and his ability to weave magic still intact, could he win another title? Both heart and mind say it is a strong possibility. 

As the action unfolds on the hallowed grass courts of the All-England Tennis Club, fans can hope to see each player weave some absolute magic.

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