If Roger Federer’s renaissance in 2017 is considered a modern sporting miracle, the Swiss star’s start to 2018 can hardly be regarded as academic.
But we have almost taken for granted how this incredible human being has had his best start to a season at 36 years of age, a feat made even more stupendous by the devotion he shows off court to his TWO sets of twins.
Many young players on tour have all the time in the world to practice; Federer has four kids to look after and is still the one winning Grand Slams: Let that sink in.
Victory over Borna Ćorić at Indian Wells solidified a 17–0 (21–0 if including victories at the Hopman Cup) record, eclipsing his previous best in 2006 where he went on to win three Grand Slams and 12 calendar year titles.
However the Swiss Express had to come to a halt at some point, with Juan Martín del Potro first and now 175th-ranked Thanasi Kottinakis putting the brakes on Roger’s rampage through the ATP tour. With consecutive loses, Federer relinquished his position at the summit of world tennis once again to bitter rival Rafael Nadal, who didn’t even have to pick up a racket in Miami this week.
“Federer’s most recent lose was down to fatigue. There can be no doubt about that. A world No.1 hasn’t lost to a player ranked as low as Kottinakis since the days of Lleyton Hewitt. The Swiss’ gruelling match against del Potro just a few days before in the Californian climate clearly took its toll on the great man’s stamina.”
As Federer won at Indian Wells and Miami last year, he went into this year’s tournaments unable to gain any ranking points. Instead, he had to defend the 2000 points he scooped for winning both titles, known colloquially as The Sunshine Double. Defeat in the final and second round respectively this time around means Federer has lost a huge 1590 points.
Yet is is because of the strange system tennis’ governing body uses to determine the rankings that I believe the Swiss master will hit back to reclaim the number one spot after the clay court season and hold it for the rest of the year.
Although Nadal is technically now on top, he is one with all the work to do. As the 2017 season resembled a seesaw, with one great champion on top then the other, the 2018 season was destined to be a cat and mouse chase between Roger and Rafa again. Significantly though, they are not chasing each other this time, but the shadow of their own previous form from a year ago.
Victory in four out of five clay court titles last year means that between now and Wimbledon, the Spaniard has a staggering 4680 points to defend, while Federer has a mere 500 after winning his record 9th title at Halle last year.
It means that going into Wimbledon, where Federer will once again be strong favourite after taking a clay court hiatus to rest his veteran body, the Swiss is likely to be world No.1 if Nadal slips up just once.
Federer’s most recent lose was down to fatigue. There can be no doubt about that. A world No.1 hasn’t lost to a player ranked as low as Kottinakis since the days of Lleyton Hewitt. The Swiss’ gruelling match against del Potro just a few days before in the Californian climate clearly took its toll on the great man’s stamina.
After a well-deserved break, you can fully expect Roger to close in on his 100th career title with potential victories coming on the grass of Stuttgart, Halle, and of course the hallowed turf of SW19.
In the swing of the US hardcourt season last year, injury stuttered his progress. If no such misfortune is to occur this time around, by the time the final major of the year is over, it would not surprise me to see Federer out of Nadal’s sight in the points department.
Now of course it is entirely possible that Nadal does repeat his heroics of last year (or more appropriately, every year) on the clay while once again storming to a Roland Garros title which to him must feel more of an annual an event than his birthday does. Considering the struggles with injury he has already had this year however, it would take a superhuman effort from Rafa, even by his painstaking standards, to defend all those points.
Going forward from that, Rafa will once again be the one sweating to claw back points of future past, having won the US open last year and a title in China. Although Roger also won a couple tournaments in the latter half of the year, he has just 3060 points to defend to his rival’s 3550.
But it is within the challenge of defending a whole 2000 points at the US Open where I see Nadal’s problems lying. He has already struggled with injury this year, and with the heavy schedule and physical demands he puts himself under, I struggle to see the 16 time Grand Slam champion defending his crown in New York.
The struggles Nadal will face in the coming months will highlight just how crucial Federer’s defence of his Australian Open title is in his bid to finish a season as the world number No.1 for a record equalling 6th time.
Federer is currently level with Jimmy Connors on 5 for year-end No.1 rankings, one behind Pete Sampras’ all-time record.
On top of this, it is also worth noting that no other player looks likely to catch Roger or Rafa in the rankings this year. Marin Čilić is some 3500 points behind the legendary pair, and although he’s enjoyed a successful last 12 months himself, the idea of him catching either player above him is unfathomable.
Meanwhile, Murray and Djokovic are still way out of the picture, with the Scott remaining side-lined through injury and the Serb looking like a ghost of the phenomenal champion he was two years ago.
Federer will no doubt be disappointed to lose top spot this week, especially when considering that he had championship points in Indian Wells to secure himself as world No.1 throughout the whole clay court season without even needing to play.
But there is plenty more still to come from him this year, and barring injury or an unexpected, astonishing retirement, the 20 time Grand Slam champion will have no difficultly in taking back top spot from Nadal sooner rather than later.
Going on from that, anything could of course happen at Wimbledon and the US Open, but don’t be surprised if you take to social media sometime soon on a summer afternoon and find tennis fans and celebrities alike paying tribute once more to a now 21 or 22 time Grand Slam champion.
(Feature photo image credit: JWDL/Flickr)