Roger Federer seemingly coasted through to his 19th Major title win and his record eighth Wimbledon title, which separates him from two legends of the game in Pete Sampras and William Renshaw. The Swiss megastar has achieved a tremendous amount throughout his glistening career, but the one thing that needs to be praised is his longevity as an athlete–and that has been the most fascinating and impressive thing, particularly after winning an additional two Major titles in 2017 at the age of 35.
Are we really seeing the best version of Federer in the most unlikely of years and circumstances? After hurting his knee in the 2016 season, which cast a cloud over the remaining stages of his career, he has responded in incredible fashion. But this has not been the first time that Federer has faced challenges from naysayers and critics that felt he could well be finished.
The win at the 2012 Wimbledon was the big one. His last Grand Slam triumph before that came at the 2010 Australian Open, which marked the longest gap he’d had between Major title victories, and that led to many feeling that his best days had gone and that the years of winning Grand Slam titles was well and truly over. Even after that 2012 Wimbledon final win against Andy Murray, many recognised that as the “one more” Slam that Federer added to his breathtaking collection, but there wouldn’t be more to follow. Like all good champions tend to do, they prove their doubters wrong at the most unexpected of times. Five years on from his seventeenth Grand Slam win, and he adds two more Major trophies at the Australian Open and Wimbledon – but is Federer truly at his best or is this happening as a result of the downfall in fortune for the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray?
It is tough to say. Djokovic and Murray have been miles from their best. That has made things a lot easier in the business-end of tournaments. Those two players largely dominated the top tier of our sport for large portions of 2016 and have definitely been missed, but when you take apart Federer’s game piece by piece, you can suggest that there are certain improvements that he has tweaked and adjusted in order to make himself a better player with the help of Ivan Ljubicic and Severin Luthi.
The backhand is a different monster. Like most one-handed backhands, it can be an effective, but vulnerable shot when put under the microscope. Federer changed that immensely at the Australian Open. He turned a losing rivalry against Rafael Nadal on its head, because of that single shot. In that final, he took the ball incredibly early and on the rise in order to push Nadal back on both wings and it turned out to be a winning strategy. If you add the fact that he is feeling super confident, then you can see why he is getting the results he is getting. Federer may not be moving as efficiently as he was ten years ago, but he is managing his game perfectly and ironing out assets of his game by making them less of a weakness and less of a problem as they would have been in previous years. He deserves a lot of credit.
Some things have remained constant. The serve is just as effective and just as reliable, as you saw throughout the fortnight at Wimbledon. Federer’s serve is still impossible to read, so in turn players have to guess which part of the service box he is aiming for, but the issue with that is that Federer can find his targets consistently with the same ball toss. Federer spent a lot of his career without any major injuries, but for him to have recent back, shoulder, and knee problems but still retain the serve he holds most dearest is exceptional in itself. Like I said, it is the most effective shot in Federer’s game and perhaps the most effective shot in men’s tennis.
Looking back at the fortnight, you could argue that Federer was in some of his best ever form at Wimbledon. He faced some good grass court players like Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, and Marin Cilic, and beat all of them without dropping a set. I don’t agree with the statement that Federer is moving as great as he ever has on a tennis court, but what I will say is that he is moving as good as any 35-year-old I’ve seen in tennis.
I think if Djokovic and Murray were still playing at their peak, Federer would still have been in the conversation and competing for these titles. The main thing we should really be concentrating on and watching on in awe is the fact that Federer is still competitive and winning Major trophies exactly 14 years after his first ever Wimbledon triumph. The longevity of his career is something to marvel at and should be applauded and recognized as not just one of tennis’ true greats, but one of the all-time greats in world sport.