Will Roger Federer turn 18 this Wimbledon?

It is a treat to watch players battling it out on grass

Wimbledon brings back good old memories

It’s that time of the year when tennis not only excites you but also calms your nerves and soothes your eyes.

The lush green courts usher in the grass leg of the season and evoke in you a mixed bag of emotions. Nostalgia, joy, elation, frustration, love, hate, anger, gratitude and a potpourri of those you can’t name or put a finger on. Don’t the other Grand Slams stir the same emotions in you? Yes, they may but with Wimbledon, known as ‘The Championships’, the emotions are heightened. The Wimbledon, by far, is the grandest of the Slams and the trophy is the most coveted one for the players.

The Sports Channels have started airing the ‘Wimbledon Classics’ which is not just a TV Program but is a trip down memory lane for all tennis enthusiasts. The images of all former Champions, the evolution of the game, the decline of former heroes and the rise of new ones, the rich tradition and the unpredictable weather transport you to another world, wiping your tennis memory clean of the season so far and preparing you for the ‘Holy Grail of Tennis’.

Will Federer win his 18th Major at Wimbledon?

Though Roger Federer stays in the limelight for the entire season, it is during Wimbledon when the attention of the entire world pans in on this living legend. Wimbledon evokes in Roger Federer his best tennis. After all, this is the place from where his fairy tale started. From being compared to Anna Kournikova (can you believe that?) to being recognized as the greatest player in the history of the sport, Federer has come a long way. The road has been long and arduous and the journey replete with more highs and a few lows.

With 17 Grand Slams under his belt, he has created a monster by writing and re-writing history. He has performed wonders that are hard to fathom and miracles that are harder to believe. A couple of months away from turning 34, Roger Federer is still going toe to toe with the triumvirate of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal and imparting tennis lessons to the rising stars.

Being on the wrong side of 30, it is an uphill task for him to stay consistent, physically and mentally, match after match in a tournament. Yet legends like Rod Laver and Pete Sampras and the tennis fanatics believe he one more Slam left in him.

However, the million dollar question is if Federer also believes that an 18th Slam and an 8th Wimbledon is in the offing. Yes he does, without an iota of doubt. His aggressive style and brand of tennis suits grass more than any other surface. He hired Stefan Edberg with a specific purpose. It is one of his top goals of 2015 to win Wimbledon.

The moot point is how possible is it.

Early signs of Wimbledon dominance

Roger Federer with his first Wimbledon trophy (2003)

With Pete Sampras on the wane, the tennis world was looking for a new king at the helm. The field looked spotty with a few good names like Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Marat Safin and Gustavo Kuerten. However, they neither had the game to establish supremacy nor had the aura to take the world by storm. In 2001, the world took notice of a pony tail toting Swiss upstart who caused a major upset at Wimbledon. Roger Federer took down Pete Sampras in the fourth round to progress to the Quarter Finals.

It took almost two years from then for Federer to find a firm footing. In 2003, Federer recalled, “When I beat Pete, I was on a cloud. But somehow Wimbledon is always very difficult for me. It's my favourite Grand Slam, the one I would really love to win the most. I want to do so well, and if I lose it's like half the season is broken. After a loss at Wimbledon it always takes about a week to get over it. Then I start practising, and I'm horribly disappointed." Federer described Wimbledon as “a bit like poker” as the grass season was the shortest of all.

With all eyes scrutinizing this Swiss wonder to see if his majestic strokes would lead him to be one among the many greats, Federer finally dispelled their doubts with his first Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon 2003. He beat Mark Philippousis in the Final and started to script his story of Grand Slam glory.

In 2004, Federer imposed his dominance by winning 3 Grand Slam titles including Wimbledon where he defeated Andy Roddick in the Final. With each passing year, Federer’s game was getting absurdly close to perfection. He won his matches even before he stepped on to the court. When he did, he looked imperious, played on his terms and made the match seem like a mere formality.

From Swiss wonder to the undisputed King of Grass

Roger Federer : The King of Grass

By emerging victorious in Wimbledon 2005, 2006 and 2007 Federer consolidated his dominance and was lapping up all other Grand Slams except the French Open. A new kid on the block called Rafael Nadal kept Federer in check. Nadal’s brand of tennis and personality was diagonally opposite to Federer’s. While Federer was regal, Nadal was all raw power. A bout of mononucleosis and back injury troubled Federer in 2008. Nadal further rubbed salt into his wounds by beating him in an epic Wimbledon Final.

2009 was a significant year of Roger Federer’s most adorned tennis timeline. He won his first French Open to equal Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles. Subsequently he won Wimbledon to create history. With 15 Grand Slam titles and counting,Federer perched at the top of the list of legends and set off the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) buzz.

Federer won a total of 16 Grand Slams before he turned 29 and from then on his decline was quite evident. Though he was good enough to stay in the top 5 since his 16th Grand Slam victory at the Australian Open 2010, it took Federer a good two and half years to produce another stretch of brilliance. It was at Wimbledon in 2012 where he won his 17th Grand Slam and tied Sampras with 7 Wimbledon titles.

Identifying Opportunity in Adversity

Roger Federer with his childhood hero and Coach Stefan Edberg

From 2003 to 2014 at Wimbledon, Federer achieved an amazing streak of 5 consecutive titles and won a total of 7 Championships. He lost in the Quarter Finals in 2010, 2011 and reached the Finals in 2008, 2014. He has not been able to replicate excellence of this extent in other Grand Slams.

The Wimbledon title of 2012 saw him usurp the No.1 ranking from Novak Djokovic but the meteoric rise was short lived. The season of 2013 was Federer’s most forgettable one. A nagging back injury hurt his rankings but what haunted him even more was his second round loss to Sergei Stakhovsky in Wimbledon 2013.

Forced back to the drawing board, Federer made two key decisions. He hired his childhood hero and 6-time Grand Slam Champion Stefan Edberg as his Coach. He abandoned his 90 square inch Wilson wand in favor of a prototype with a larger head. According to Product Design team at Wilson, Federer experimented with 20-21 rackets and dabbled with about 250 slightly modified versions. After a year’s labor Federer finally approved of his weapon of choice that is called the Wilson Pro Staff RF97.

These two key decisions almost immediately reaped big dividends for Federer. From ending 2013 as the No.6 ranked player in the world, Federer turned his fortunes around and made 2014 a memorable one. A remarkable run at Wimbledon gave him a golden opportunity of adding the much anticipated 18th Grand Slam title. Although Novak Djokovic’s resilience and will edged Federer’s in the Final, Federer proved himself on many fronts with his stellar performance at Wimbledon 2014.

Federer proved the naysayers wrong and showed that he has a lot of tennis left in him (Wimbledon 2014)

At 33, he could still compete in 5 Set formats. After all, he made it to the Semi Final stage or better in 3 out of 4 Grand Slams in 2014.

Due to rain wreaking havoc on the scheduling, Federer played 4 of his 7 matches in the last 6 days of the tournament. Yet he reached the Finals. Federer was neither at the mercy of the Rain Gods nor his opponents.

Federer could very well compete with the new breed. He defeated Milos Raonic, 10 years his junior, in the Semi Finals.

His burning desire to win another Slam saw him fight back from two breaks down in the Fourth Set and win 5 games on a trot to force a decider in the Finals.

A record 8th title at Halle: the perfect prelude to Wimbledon 2015

Roger Federer beat Andreas Seppi to clinch his 8th title at Halle yesterday.

With the Gerry Weber Open at Halle being upgraded to an ATP 500 tournament, there were far more top seeds in the fray than in the yesteryears. The competition was high and varied.

Federer survived a tough Kohlshreiber test in the opening round where he was stretched to three sets. Two points away from being ousted in the first round, Federer held his ground and won the next three points to defeat Philip Kohlschrieber who was the winner of the Gerry Weber Open in 2011. With this challenging opener that went down to the wire, Federer seemed to find his feet on grass.

Ernests Gulbis and Florian Mayer in the Second and Third Rounds respectively did not seem to pose much of a threat to Federer. His first real test came by in the Semi Finals where he faced the ace machine Ivo Karlovic.

Karlovic, who defeated Djokovic in the Doha Open this year, is a force to be reckoned with on grass. The Croatian giant, who fired 45 aces to dispatch Tomas Berdych in the Quarter Finals, did well enough to push Federer to tie breaks in both the Sets. But neither his aces nor his devastating forehand could save him from Federer’s tactical supremacy and agility.

In the Finals, Federer faced a familiar foe in Andreas Seppi. Seppi, who hogged the limelight by beating Federer in the Australian Open this year, was on a lucky streak at Halle. He had hardly spent 40 minutes on court in both his Quarter Final and Semi Final matches put together.

Gael Monfils pulled out in the Quarter Finals due to a strained adductor and Kei Nishikori retired due to an injured calf after playing just 5 games in the First Set. Seppi, the fresher of the two, often made Federer uncomfortable with his deep ground strokes and impregnable defense. But Federer played big on the crucial points and did well to stave off break points. He broke Seppi just once in the entire match and broke him when it mattered the most. Federer won 7-6, 6-4 to clinch a record eighth title at Halle.

Federer dropped just one set in the entire tournament. He played a total of 6 tie breaks and won them all. His serve and backhand down the line often came to his rescue. With this win at Halle, he will take enormous confidence and zeal onto SW19.

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How does the competition size up

While a smattering of history and a quick analysis of Federer’s game at Halle helps gain some perspective on his chances, it would be incomplete without keeping an eye on his competition. With hardly a month between the French Open and Wimbledon, players have to make the transition very quickly. They usually choose a tournament or two depending on how deep a run they make in the first grass tournament they play.

Federer’s competition for Wimbledon title in 2015

The Big Three and Stan

Rafael Nadal, after being ousted by Novak Djokovic in the Quarter Finals of this year’s French Open, seemed to have utilized his time well to dust off the clay and the disappointment to get ready for grass. After 5 long years he won his first title on grass at Stuttgart. However his momentum was halted by the flashy Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round of the Aegon Classic at the Queen’s Club.

Down to No.10 in the Rankings, Nadal’s Wimbledon chances will be subjected to the draw. After ignominious exits in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Nadal will fancy his chances in this year’s Wimbledon as his knee injuries are at bay. He had more time to recover post the French Open.

While Novak Djokovic has chosen not to play any of the warm up tournaments on grass, he will be the man to beat at Wimbledon. The Serb who was unstoppable, till his recent loss to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open Finals, will have rejuvenated physically and mentally to defend his title.

Stan Wawrinka’s grass run came to an abrupt halt when Kevin Anderson took him down in straight sets in the Second Round of the Aegon Championships. The mental tenacity, that had helped Wawrinka win his first French Open a few days back, seemed to desert him in his match against Anderson.

Federer’s biggest threat will be Britain’s Andy Murray. Murray who won the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club yesterday is on a great winning streak and is oozing with confidence.

Far from being the mental midget he once was Andy Murray, with the help of Amelie Mauresmo, now sports the mindset and demeanor of a winner. This year he reached the Finals of the Australian Open and the Semi Finals of the French Open, both of which he lost to his arch rival and nemesis Djokovic. With the surface being grass and the desire to add one more home Slam to his name, Murray will be a serious contender at Wimbledon this year.

The rest of the field

While Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic were the young guns who made the Semi Finals of Wimbledon last year, this year the former is struggling with his form and the latter is recovering from a foot surgery.

Viktor Troicki has had an amazing run on grass. He lost the Finals of the Stuttgart Open to Nadal and the Semi Finals of the Aegon Championships to Murray. Despite these losses, his remarkable runs at both these tournaments will makes his opponents sit up and take notice.

In 2013, Sergei Stakhovsky moved like a butterfly and stung like a bee to oust Federer. However since then he has not been able to up the ante and produce any noteworthy performances. With Gael Monfils and Jo Wilfred Tsonga unlikely to play at this year’s Wimbledon,Tomas Berdych failing to build on his consistency and Kei Nishikori dealing with an injured calf, no other player in the rest of the field is likely to trouble Federer.

Federer’s preparation for Wimbledon 2015

Pierre Paganini : The man behind Roger Federer’s fitness

Federer’s secret to his longevity is the amount of respect he has for his body and general well-being. An injury ridden 2013 drove Federer to take a vow to never play when injured. His decision to pull out at the World Tour Finals in 2014 paid off a week later. Though he handed Djokovic the year ending Championships without a fight, his wise decision to pull out and nurse his ailing back rewarded him his maiden Davis Cup victory.

In a recent interview, Federer’s fitness trainer Pierre Paganini told Wimbledon.com that Federer has been able to play in so many Grand Slams due to a combination of things. Federer uses the optimal energy on court by being very focused when it’s important to be focused and relaxed when it’s important to be relaxed. He uses the right amount of physical and mental energy.

Federer’s ability to listen to his body and sharing the information with Paganini would help him greatly in strengthening those places in Federer’s body that are relatively weak.

"The change between clay and grass is probably the biggest change you can have during the season. The movement on grass is different to on the other surfaces. On grass, you do more little steps than you would do on clay or on hard courts. Of course, the movement is different on every surface, but on grass it is even more specialized," Paganini said.

"Before a player goes on grass, you can do exercises that help them with this. You can do this with strength exercises and also coordination exercises. You can also work on speed and other aspects. You have to think about the muscles that will work more on grass, or will work differently on grass. In sport, as in life, you look at the details, and then when you put all those aspects together, it amounts to a lot."

What does Federer have to do to increase his odds

The draw is something no player can wield control over. Barring the draw and the notorious weather, if Federer can sail through the first week without dropping a set he will be fresher and raring to go in the Second Week of the Championships.

His serve and his backhand have to be spot on from beginning to end. Most players target Federer’s relatively weak backhand. At Halle he has been striking the ball well and has banked on some big serving to get himself out of trouble.

He has to be relentless in his pursuit at the net. Battling from the baseline will not help and will only dent his chances like the way it did in his Finals against Andres Seppi at Halle.

Last but not the least, he cannot afford to lose his mental edge. In the past one year, though he has fared well, he has shown lapses of concentration and glimpses of diffidence in his matches against Monfils and Djokovic.

In his 12 appearances at Wimbledon since 2003, he has lost to just 5 different opponents. This is one surface where he thrives despite being 33.

What would an 18th Grand Slam mean to Roger Federer

Does he want to win it to see his life come a full circle?

Does he want to win it to be out of Nadal’s reach and seal the G.O.A.T debate?

Does he want to win it to go past Pete Sampras’s 7 Wimbledon titles and stay aloof at the top?

Or, does he want to win it just for the love of tennis?

Roger Federer and Slam No.18 : A race against time

Whatever it may mean to this Swiss Maestro, he is definitely geared up for the conquest. The earlier he accomplishes it, the better. With each fleeting year he would have lesser number of factors under his control.

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