The Australian Open hasn’t been Roger Federer’s best Slam the last few years. In fact, since winning his 4th title here in 2010 the former World #1 has failed to make another final. However, things are different this year. After calling 2016 quits following a Wimbledon semifinal loss to Milos Raonic in early July the Swiss superstar has not played an official tournament on tour.
But in preparation for the Australian Open he did play the Hopman Cup, an event where he comfortably beat the likes of Brit Dan Evans–who reached the Sydney final–and the 18th seed in Melbourne, Richard Gasquet. The talented young German Alexander Zverev narrowly edged him though in a final set tie-break.
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Considering Federer has been out for almost six months it’s fair to say that, although only an exhibition, his form at the Hopman Cup was a good sign for this year’s first Major. Being the 17th seed at the event, his lowest ever seeding at the Australian Open, the 17-time Grand Slam champion was never going to have it easy and that proved to be the case, drawing 10th seed Tomas Berdych in round three.
Qualifier delight for Roger Federer in opening rounds
Before we look ahead to that third round match, the Swiss man has the perfect opening to a major. Facing qualifier Jurgen Melzer in the first round and another qualifier–either Noah Rubin or Bjorn Fratangelo–there’s no better way to open a Major. Given the 35-year-old’s absence the last few months he’ll be able to play himself into form against far lower ranked players and see where his game is at, especially over best of five sets.
Posibles rivales de Federer en el #AusOpen
— Roger Federer Fans (@RFederer_Fans) January 13, 2017
Where things get tricky is after that as mentioned before. 10th seed Tomas Berdych has beaten Roger Federer at both Wimbledon and the US Open and held a two sets to love lead against the Swiss here in 2009 during the fourth round. Although the Czech man finished inside the world’s Top ten for an astonishing seventh straight year, he’s a shadow of the player he once was, with more and more losses against top players racking up. Ironically, their last meeting was here in the quarterfinals last year where the 31-year-old Czech was brushed aside comfortably in straight sets. If (and it’s a big if) Berdych does produce, then it will bring all sorts of problems, but it’s highly unlikely.
Roger Federer facing tougher tests earlier than usual
As expected in a ?ajor, things will only get more and more difficult. Kei Nishikori would most likely then be next in the fourth round. Considering the Japanese superstar has never made it past the quarter-finals here and has lost his past three matches against Roger Federer, it bodes well for the Swiss man. The #5 seed does however have two wins over the 35-year-old and with his solid game style, if Federer isn’t hitting the ball cleanly he will be a real nightmare.
If Federer does make the final eight, we’ll arguably get the match of the tournament, the former World #1 against the current World #1, Andy Murray. The astonishing thing here is that in Grand Slams Federer leads the head to head 5-1. Even in that one match Murray did win (it was in Melbourne in 2013), and despite a sub-par performance from the 17-time Grand Slam champion, it still took Murray five sets. If we do get this match-up it’s almost assured Federer will be in good form and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the world’s best player going home before the semis.
Most likely in the semi-finals would be his Swiss compatriot and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka. Last year’s US Open champion has surprisingly never beaten Federer off clay, despite 14 chances. While Wawrinka is always dangerous, the chance of him losing early is very possible given his Grand Slam record over the last few years. When he is not striking the ball well things can often end badly, perhaps meaning whoever does make the semi-finals from Murray’s quarter could have a nice match on paper.
Could we get a fifth Roger Federer versus Novak Djokovic Grand Slam final?
Where everything goes pear-shaped would be the thought of Novak Djokovic in the final. The six-time Australian Open champion has had Federer’s number in Melbourne since 2008, beating him three times and also in the Swiss’ last three slam finals (Wimbledon ’14/’15 and US Open ’15). No matter how good the seven-time Wimbledon champion has been against Djokovic at the Australian Open and in Slam finals recently, it’s never been enough. Most of this is simply down to the fact he can’t hit through Djokovic on a consistent enough basis over five sets to get Grand Slam #18. To many tennis fans this would be the dream final, one of the greatest match-ups ever in tennis finally squaring up in an Australian Open final with the head to head finely poised as Djokovic narrowly leads 23-22.
Overall there’s no doubt that Roger Federer’s draw is hard and a lot depends on his form. With a comfortable first two rounds on paper, potentially followed by two top ten players whom he has good records against, there is no doubt he can play himself into form. Realistically Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are his biggest threats here and they account for a crazy six of his last eight losses here (Murray and Seppi the other two). With both in the other half, despite only coming back from a long period off, it’s a half chance for the great champion to make yet another Slam final; it won’t be easy but there’s no one on his route to the final that he will feel he cannot beat if playing well. And who knows? Maybe if he does find form and makes his first final in Melbourne since 2010, he might just not even have to face off against Djokovic or Nadal.