Although Roger Federer has gone an eternity—by his rarefied standards—without a Grand Slam title, he’s back at the site of his last such victory in Australia, where he was the 2010 winner. Despite his impressive history on hard courts, though, the Swiss star is in for a brutal finish if he hopes to reclaim his crown in Melbourne.
Federer’s fourth-round bout with Bernard Tomic shouldn’t be too steep a challenge, but after that he’s headed for a quarterfinal showdown with Juan Martin Del Potro. Although the Argentine is only a No. 11 seed, he’s already proven himself as a dangerous foe against Federer.
The last time the pair met in a Grand Slam tourney was the 2009 U.S. Open final, in a four-hour marathon that ended in a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-7(4), 2-6 victory for Del Potro.
Their most recent match (in Cincinnati last year) went to Federer, but there’s no doubt that Delpo has the hard-court chops to beat anyone—including Federer—when he’s at the top of his game.
Assuming Federer can get past Del Potro, fans will likely be treated to another installment of the historic Federer-Nadal rivalry in the semis. Although hard-court play isn’t Nadal’s specialty, he won the only Melbourne meeting between the two stars when he took down Federer in the 2009 final.
Of course, if Federer manages to survive that pair of stars, his reward is almost certain to be a rematch with Novak Djokovic, the defending tournament champ who bounced Federer in straight sets in last year’s semis.
For his part, Djokovic is likely to face only one serious challenge before the final, a meeting with 2011 runner-up Andy Murray.
None of this is to say that Federer is anything less than a leading contender for the tournament title. If he does recapture his Grand Slam touch next weekend, though, he’ll certainly have earned it.