Pack your bags

Fed­erer leads the way as the tennis world gets set for Wim­ble­don.

The National - News - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Gra­ham Cay­gill gcay­gill@then­

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.


Tyler Larkin / EPA

Swiss Roger Fed­erer won in Halle, Ger­many, and looks in good form ahead of Wim­ble­don, which be­gins next week in Lon­don.

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