Pack your bags
Federer leads the way as the tennis world gets set for Wimbledon.
If there is one lesson that 2017 has taught us in the world of men’s tennis, it is that a rest can be good. Roger Federer did not play tennis for the second half of 2016 after losing in the semi-finals of Wimbledon last July to Canadian Milos Raonic as he recovered from knee surgery.
The time away from the court did the 35-year-old Swiss no harm, winning the 18th grand slam of his career at the Australian Open. It set up a superb start to 2017 that also saw him claim titles in Miami and Indian Wells before he chose to sit out the clay-court season, prophesising that a revitalised Rafael Nadal was set to sweep up all before him on the red surface.
Nadal also demonstrated the wisdom of down time. His decision to end his 2016 season in October to recover from nagging injuries has looked inspired. He has played his best tennis, on both hard courts and clay, for more than three years, with four titles and three runner-up finishes in 10 tournaments.
Federer looked a little rusty after his two-month hiatus between April 2 and the middle of this month, losing the first match on his return against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart. But the rest of the field for this year’s Wimbledon will have glanced nervously at the Swiss player picking up a ninth Halle title on Sunday. While Halle has been Federer’s preferred warm-up event, success in Germany does not automatically equate a record eighth Wimbledon title next month.
He won his sixth, seventh, and eighth Halle crowns in 2013, 2014 and 2015, yet failed to go on to be Wimbledon champion those years.
Yet even in the era of dominance by Novak Djokovic, and the regression of Federer from winning grand slams, he has usually been a major threat on grass.
Yes, his title defence after the last of his seven Wimbledon titles in 2012 came to a shock early exit in the second round at the hands of Sergiy Stakhovsky, but in 2014 and 2015 he reached the final, losing to Djokovic on both occasions, and he probably still has nightmares about the chances he spurned in losing to Milos Raonic in the semi-final 12 months ago.
Given he had superbly beaten Andy Murray in the semi-finals in 2015 with a swerving masterclass, he would have strongly fancied his chances of beating the Briton in that final had he prevailed against Raonic even though he was not 100 per cent physically fit. He immediately called time on his 2016 season after the loss to allow his knee to fully recover.
The scary question for Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Raonic and all the other contenders over the next two weeks then is just how good will a fully fit and rested Federer be on a surface he loves?
Seven titles and three runners-up spots in 14 years speaks volumes for his record at Wimbledon, but with Murray and Djokovic both out of sorts, Raonic having had an inconsistent season and having split with his coach Richard Krajicek earlier this month, and Stan Wawrinka having never looked like a serious threat on grass, Federer’s main threat is likely to come from his old nemesis Nadal, the man he beat in the Australian Open final in January for his 18th grand slam title.
The jury has to be out on Nadal to an extent though. Largely because of injury problems he has not been beyond the fourth round since he was runner-up in 2011.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was superb in winning his 10th French Open earlier this month, but surviving the rigours of winning two majors in the space of seven weeks will be the biggest test yet of whether his body is fully free of any aggravations.
Everything points to Federer. Even during his grand slam drought, Wimbledon always looked the most likely route for him to win his 18th major, and it was a surprise, even to him, that it actually came at Melbourne this year. But it will now be a surprise if No 19 does not come in two weeks’ time.
Swiss Roger Federer won in Halle, Germany, and looks in good form ahead of Wimbledon, which begins next week in London.