Why Roger Federer could win his 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne
Why the Australian Open can prove to be a defining moment in Roger Federer's career.
Roger Federer is a name that is synonymous with tennis, greatness and elegance. At the age of 35, the Swiss maestro is still going strong, proving to all the critics that age is merely a number.
While many fans may agree that he peaked between 2004 and 2010, his performances in subsequent tournaments showed that he wasn't done with the game, not by a long shot.
One thing which separates the former world number one from the rest of the players is his everlasting love for the sport. As the Swiss legend once said, "When you do something best in life, you don't really want to give that up - and for me, it's tennis."
This marvellous sport has seen many great players lose their flair when they reach the thirties, but Federer's determination kept him in a different league altogether.
The 2016 season was an uneventful one for the Swiss, mainly because of his injury problems. After struggling with his knee and back, Federer decided to take a break from the sport in order to recuperate. Wimbledon was his last tournament, where he lost to Milos Raonic in the semi-final.
Having missed out on the Olympics and other ATP tournaments, Federer slipped down to the 17th in the rankings. To put things into perspective, the last time the Swiss found himself outside the top 10, was back in 2002.
After a long recovery period, Federer commenced his 2017 season by taking part in the Hopman Cup. Following his decent performance there, he made his way to Melbourne and began his bid for a fifth Australian Open crown.
Given that he is the 17th seed, the chances of him running into better-ranked players were quite high. But as he showed in his opening two matches, he still has what it takes to win big, and with finesse.
One thing that can be said about Roger's game is that he relies heavily on skill and placement, rather than chasing the ball relentlessly, like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. This is quite understandable, given that his stamina isn't what it used to be, six years ago. Nonetheless, years of experience and countless hours on the court has made him a player with immense accuracy and precision.
For instance, in his opening match against Jurgen Melzer, Federer won 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Despite losing a set, he didn't lose his confidence or momentum. In the course of the game, he produced a massive 19 aces and broke on seven out of nine occasions to outclass his opponent. In his second-round match, he faced the young American Noah Rubin, and it was the same story all over again. The 17th seed won in straight sets, on the back of 17 aces and an 82 percent win rate on first serve.
Third round onwards, things began to get a bit tricky with seeded players popping up in the bracket. First up was the 10th seed Tomas Berdych, whom he moved past 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Next in line was the Japanese number one Kei Nishikori. This match was an absolute slug-fest, which went on for five gruelling sets. But after fighting hard for more than three hours, the 35-year-old emerged victorious 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, with 24 aces and 83 winners (in comparison to Nishikori's 42).
Another reason why this might be Federer's tournament to lose lies in the early and shocking exits of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Both the players crashed out quite early, to Denis Istomin and Mischa Zverev respectively. Interestingly, the Swiss will now face Zverev in his quarter-final bout, on Tuesday.
Even though Federer leads 2-0 against the 29-year-old German, both of those wins came more than three years ago. Moreover, the German's shocking win against the World No. 1 ought to worry the Swiss a bit, but his experience should give him the upper hand here.
If he wins in the quarter-final (and odds dictate that he should), he will go up against Stan Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-final. If it's his compatriot, he can seek solace from the fact that he leads 18-3 against him in their head to head tally.
The Frenchman, on the other hand, might be trickier to deal with. Even though the 17-time Grand Slam champion has a healthy 11-6 record against him, their last two matches have ended in defeats for the Swiss. However, it should be considered that Tsonga last defeated Federer in the 2016 Monte Carlo Masters - a clay court tournament, which was never the Swiss's strong suit.
With the top two seeds out of the way, Federer's path to the trophy has certainly been made a lot easier. While there are still some players who can give the Swiss a run for his money, a clearer picture will be revealed in the coming days. For now, the four-time Australian Open champion can rest easy and reflect on his superb win against Nishikori.