With his last win in Australia coming in 2010, and no Grand Slam titles since then, can we reasonably expect Roger Federer to make it to the Australian Open finals? Federer's last finals appearance at a Grand Slam tournament was at Roland Garros 2011; he lost in the semi-finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2011.
While no one can doubt that Federer is among the greatest tennis players to have ever played the game, there are five important reasons that he will probably not make the finals of the first Grand Slam of 2012.
While no one can deny that Roger Federer ended 2011 in stellar fashion—maintaining a 17-match win streak and capturing three titles—we should be hard-pressed to use this as a predictor of success at this year's Australian Open.
For one thing, Federer played his two biggest challengers—Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal—a total of one time during the post-US Open leg of the 2011 season. Unfortunately for Federer, at least one of Djokovic and Nadal will be a road block on the way to the Australian Open final.
In addition, Federer pulled out of the 2012 Qatar Open due to back problems—only the second time he has had to pull out of a match in his entire career. While Federer claims the injury is not too severe, that he had to withdraw from a semi-final match suggests that he may be suffering from poorer recovery times and increased bodily fatigue.
With the heat in Australia being a significant determinant of match success, Federer may not be in the shape he needs to be. Indeed, if his statements after Qatar are any indication, we can expect Federer to take a bit of a break before setting foot on a tennis court, which will be a serious hindrance to his preparation for this year's first slam.
Roland Garros 2008 Final - Nadal Beat Federer in Straight Sets
I used to have a lot of faith in Federer, that is I felt comfortable expecting him to make it to a Grand Slam final without too much trouble. Unfortunately, those days are behind me and in no small part due to Federer's increasing tendency to beat himself. From the 2008 Roland Garros final, to last year's U.S. Open and Wimbledon semi-finals, Federer has shown us that he can play terribly if he chooses to do so.
For this year's Australian Open then, I don't think we have any reason to expect anything different. Indeed, it's becoming hit-or-miss with Federer's playing style and that won't bode well during the later stages of the tournament. Sure, while Federer may make it to the second week of the tournament, making the finals will be a tall order. This is especially true because many of the players he will see in the later rounds of the tournament will be hungry for the Australian Open title, Novak Djokovic among them.
Hard-hitting Tsonga Will Give Federer Some Trouble
When at the top of their hard-hitting game and getting all of their shots in, players like Jo-Wilfired Tsonga, Thomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del-Potro will give Roger Federer a hard time in this year's Australian Open draw.
As the 2011 Wimbledon semi-finals and the 2009 U.S. Open finals showed, Federer is no longer immune to hard-hitting players like Tsonga and Del-Potro. This fact, combined with Federer's currently poor physical condition and the Australian Open heat makes a finals appearance for Federer increasingly unlikely.
I won't deny that Federer could get some luck on his side, and Tsonga or Del-Potro could have a bad day, but I'm not counting on it. Tsonga just took the title in Qatar, and he will be confident heading into Melbourne.
Andy Murray - Brisbane International 2012
This one is controversial and probably even more difficult to prove, but given his already illustrious career and many accolades, Federer may not be operating at the same motivational level that we was a few years ago. Indeed, as I argued in a 2010 article, Federer's demeanor has changed from earlier in his career, and there's no reason to think that it will be different in 2012.
This isn't an indictment of Federer's playing style or commitment to the sport, but rather a realistic assessment of someone who has achieved more in his profession than many of us will in ours. His imperatives have changed, and others like Djokovic and Murray are hungry for their chance to become one of the greatest to have ever played the game (particularly Murray, who has struggled to meet expectations time and time again).
Thus, while I think Federer will do well at the Australian Open this year by other players' standards, he may disappoint his own.
Roger Federer is no longer in a place where he can beat Novak Djokovic when the latter is playing at the top of his game. Djokovic has proven several times over that he is capable of playing with the greats of this tennis generation, and there is no reason to believe that he will slow down in 2012. Sure, Federer had a fantastic finish to 2012, but that was during a period where neither Djokovic, nor Nadal were looming threats in most of the draws in which Federer participated.
I expect Djokovic to come to Australia in 2012 looking for another win and with the confidence, conditioning and drive to get it. Unfortunately for Federer, this will make it very difficult to advance beyond the semi-finals of the slam.