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Roger Federer and Rio 2016: Who has his golden keys?

We analyse the World No. 2's prospect at next year's Olympic games, to be held in Brazil next year, and why he should partner with Martina Hingis.

Roger Federer at the London Olympics in 2012. What is in store for him at Rio 2016?

That’s the question a lot of people are asking themselves right now. Who holds the key to Roger Federer’s ‘golden’ ambitions at Rio 2016 – Stan Wawrinka, Martina Hingis or Federer himself?

The legend is 34 years old now, but he still wants more. Probably the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T), the Swiss ace inspires a lot of discussion among his watchers, fans and spectators with each passing year.

Federer and the Olympic Games

The raging G.O.A.T debate has been following the great man ever since he went past Pete Sampras at Wimbledon 2009. Some critics did point out a few lacunae in his otherwise impressive resume that could possibly keep the Swiss Maestro from holding the undisputed title.

He dispelled some of their doubts by winning his maiden Davis Cup last November. However, an Olympics gold in the men’s singles category has eluded him since the first Olympics he played in 2000.

Federer came close to winning gold at the London Olympics in 2012. Bruised and depleted after a gruelling semifinal duel against Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, Federer was blasted off the court in straight sets by Britain’s Andy Murray in the play-off for Olympic gold.

For Murray, the victory was sweet revenge, as it came at Wimbledon – the scene of his crushing loss to Federer a month prior. 

Federer consoling a tearful Del Potro after a 4 hr 26 min Semi Final (London Olympics 2012)

Almost every Olympic outing has been special for Federer. In the Sydney Olympics of 2000, though he lost the bronze medal match to Arnaud Di Pasquale – a French journeyman ranked much below him – he won the heart of now-wife Mirka.

Federer won his first Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics alongside countryman Wawrinka in the men’s doubles, but had to be content with a silver in the men’s singles at the 2012 London Olympics.

A beaming  Federer with emotional teammate Stan Wawrinka (Beijing Olympics 2008)

Twist in the Olympics tale

It was earlier believed that the Rio Olympics would be played on clay, the traditional playing surface in Brazil. However, destiny has had its own ways of conjuring miracles for Federer. In February this year, the Olympics Committee announced that the surface would not be clay but fast hard courts.

The rationale behind the choice of this surface was that by the time the Olympic Games start in Rio, the players would have left behind the European clay, would have played on grass and would be looking forward to the hard court season in the run-up to the last Slam of the year, the US Open.

Though this decision by the committee seems logical when scrutinized within the purview of scheduling, there is one player who was miffed by it – Rafael Nadal, Federer’s arch-rival and tormentor-in-chief.

Nadal won his maiden gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and is the only other male player apart from Andre Agassi to have won a Golden Slam (the legendary Steffi Graf is the only player to have completed the Golden Slam in a single year). However, the Spaniard is still 3 Grand Slams and 19 titles (overall) behind Federer.

What possibilities does Rio 2016 hold for Federer?

Federer’s prospects at the Rio Olympics are brighter and more promising than ever. There are two twists in his Olympics tale that have contributed to the excitement: first, the switch of the surface from clay to fast hard courts and second, the comeback of Swiss Miss Martina Hingis.

Hingis, who is set to become eligible for Rio 2016, was supposed to partner Federer at London Olympics 2012 but opted against it. However, in March of this year Federer was quoted as saying, “She [Hingis] has approached me [for 2016], and I said I’d give it some thought. The problem is, I don’t know how I would play singles, doubles, mixed [doubles] within an eight-day period [at the Olympics]. To try to win them all, it’s like 15 matches in eight days [15 in nine days in London 2012; the Rio schedule hasn’t been announced, but it would take 15 matches]. You tell me how that works. I don’t [know]. I have to figure out things and what my priority is at the end of the day.”

Among his contemporaries, Federer holds the unique distinction of having won Olympic medals in both singles and doubles. Would that elusive gold in singles, if clinched, make him the undisputed G.O.A.T? Or would a gold medal in either of the doubles or mixed doubles categories make him even greater?

Federer would turn 35 at about the same time when the Rio Olympics are declared open. He would have played another four Grand Slams by then. In which category would his chances be the best?

Though the Grand Slam arena has been dominated by the Big 4, or should we say the Big 5 after Wawrinka recently joined the elite club, the men’s singles category in almost every edition of the Olympics has been very unpredictable. Over the years there have been a host of male players who have won the Olympic gold but never managed to win a single Grand Slam in their careers. For instance, Marc Rosset of Switzerland clinched gold at the 1992 Olympics but never won a Grand Slam.

What are the odds?

Federer will face stiff competition in the singles discipline. Moreover, at the ripe old age of 35, it will be a huge challenge for him to play best-of-five sets (which would be the format in the final).

And if he were to play a long match, like his iconic 4 hour 26 minute semi against Del Potro at the London Olympics, the strain would not bode well for his performance in the subsequent match.

In doubles, the field is likely to be saturated, with several formidable teams in the fray. The Bryan Brothers of the USA, Italians Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli and the French teams of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert as well as Edouard Roger Vasselin and Julien Benneteau are some of the teams that could be very dangerous.

Though the golden duo of Federer and Wawrinka are a strong team, they have been vulnerable in the past. They lost to Robin Hasse and Jean-Julien Rojer of Netherlands in their Davis Cup tie at Amsterdam in 2012. They were also defeated by Andrey Golubev and Alexndr Nedoyesov of Kazakhstan in the Davis Cup quarterfinals last year.

The Swiss Miss and the Swiss Maestro : Can they weave some magic in Rio 2016?

Federer’s best chance at Rio, in my opinion, is in the mixed doubles category with Hingis. Since her comeback, Hingis has shown that being away from the sport has hardly had any impact on her skill, dexterity or precision.

Currently ranked No. 1 in the World along with India’s Sania Mirza, she won the mixed doubles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year with India’s Leander Paes.

Hingis and Federer match up to each other in almost every facet of the game. They may not have the biggest of serves, but they make up for it with precision and accuracy. Their quick hands and reflexes enable them to be effective at the net and their tactical supremacy is the icing on the cake.

The fact that they both have won multiple Grand Slams and were ranked No. 1 in the world for a long time adds to their aura as a team.

The only thing that could work against them is the fact that they have not played together before. However, that is definitely not an insurmountable deterrent to their Olympics success as they could play a couple of tournaments or more in the run-up to Rio 2016 to figure out their dynamics. With the wealth of experience they possess between each other, they can groom themselves into a winning team in a short span.

A couple of weeks after another gut-wrenching loss to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, Federer said that he is listening to his body more than ever. This prompted him to pull out of the Montreal Masters in Canada, due to start on the 10th of August.

Federer’s decision quite clearly indicates his desire to preserve his body so that it can help him stoke his fire and zeal to win bigger tournaments and Slams where he has a great record.

Logical versus Rogical

In summary, Federer would be wise if he chooses to play only the mixed doubles with Hingis at Rio. An Olympics gold medal with her would put him on a pedestal alongside Reginald Doherty and Vincent Richards, both of whom have won an Olympic medal in the men’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles categories.

While American Richards won all of his 3 Olympic medals in all three categories at the 1924 Paris Olympics, Doherty of Great Britain won his four in all three categories over two editions of the Olympic Games – Paris (1900) and London (1908).

It will definitely be a big gamble for Federer if he chooses to play both the singles and mixed doubles. Although it may seem to increase his chances of winning another Olympic medal, it would come at a cost. It would be a humongous task for him to pull off 10 matches over 8 days!

Yes, it may not sound logical, but it is Rogical. With Federer around, anything is possible!

The Swiss himself is in possession of his golden keys. The important point is how well he will be able to exercise his discretion to unlock more Olympic success.

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