2017 was supposed to be the year Roger Federer slowly made his exit from the upper echelons of world tennis. A year which showed flashes of his past ability, but in which he succumbed to the testing physicality of the tour. A chance to bid goodbye to the venues in which he has made so many memories after a career that, perhaps, no one will ever match. Roger Federer had other ideas.
The year started largely as expected. Wins over Dan Evans and Richard Gasquet at the non-ranking Hopman Cup were interceded by defeat to the up and coming Alexander Zverev. It seemed to signal a changing of the guard- the handing over of the reigns from the master to the apprentice, such is the hype surrounding the young German. Federer went into the Australian Open claiming his goal was simply to make the second week.
Federer had not won a tournament since November 2015, and a Grand Slam since the famous defeat of Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2012. He had not played competitively since Wimbledon 6 months before and went into the Australian Open seeded 17th. After needing 4 sets to beat 300th ranked Jurgen Melzer in the first round nothing seemed to point towards the Swiss being able to make it much past the quarter finals, let alone a realistic shot at the title. Noah Rubin proved a tough match too, taking the third and final set all the way to a tiebreak, although Tomas Berdych proved a much simpler task despite his no10 world ranking. Whilst a good player, Berdych did not really have the weapons to trouble the Swiss great.
Kei Nishikori was Federer’s opponent as he entered the 4th round. Ranked 5th in the world and blessed with impeccable technique, quick feet and a knack of staying in the point it took Federer five gruelling sets to wear down his Japanese opponent. His reward, a quarter final against Murray-slayer Mischa Zverev. For Federer, however, he proved no problem, dispatched in straight sets.
his goal was simply to make the second week
And just like that Roger Federer found himself in the semi-final of the Australian Open. Two victories over top 10 players, three sets lost and a meeting with Swiss powerhouse Stan Wawrinka. Surely now the run was over. Federer may claim a set, but Stan would outmuscle and outlast him, breaking him down physically. This wasn’t to be. After losing the first 2 sets Wawrinka seemed to be building momentum as he took the third and fourth. However, Federer returned after a long injury timeout to take the final set 6-3.
It only made sense that if Federer was to somehow turn back time and win a Grand Slam it would be against his old nemesis Rafael Nadal- the Spaniard having beaten Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Gael Monfils and Alexander Zverev on his path to the final. Federer started well, winning the first set, before Nadal hit back to take the second. Federer rattled through the third to take it with the loss of only 1 game, only for Nadal to take the fourth 6-3 again. After breaking early in the fifth and final set it seemed Nadal would hold on, however Federer brilliantly won 5 games in a row to clinch it 6-3. In doing so Federer broke his own record to take his all-time record of Grand Slam titles to 18. In addition, he denied Nadal the chance to become the first man to complete the double career Grand Slam and marked Federer’s first ever win over Nadal at a Grand Slam outside of Wimbledon.
The question now is whether he can maintain this form. Undoubtedly the faster courts of Melbourne suited Federer’s aggressive playing style. He hit 73 winners against Nadal and came to the net almost 50 times, and this brand of tennis will not be so effective on the clay of Paris. What he has proved though is his fitness. Although needing injury timeouts against Wawrinka and Nadal for “a leg thing”, both Federer and Nadal proved that they can not only still match the top 10 players over a 5 set match, but can last a tournament doing so. Providing he can stay injury free, there is no reason Roger Federer cannot compete at the highest level this year, giving us another year to enjoy the greatest player of all time.