Roger Federer, only two days after beating up-and-comer Bernard Tomic in straight sets, picked 11th-ranked Juan Martin Del Potro apart in dominating fashion, downing him 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in his Australian Open quarterfinal match.
Powered by five breaks, strong returning and a backhand that exceeded even his usual high standards, the former world No. 1 gave a resounding answer to the question on the minds of many tennis fans.
Is he too old to play elite tennis? Not this year.
Federer jumped out to a quick start in his 1,000th career match, garnering a 4-1 lead before dropping three straight games, including the only break he suffered during the match. From that point on, with the exception of a small slump in the second set, it was all Roger.
He displayed the finesse and ease which characterized his four-and-a-half year reign at the top of men’s tennis, spinning and slicing the ball to every spot on the court. Del Potro is no slouch, but he couldn’t keep up with Federer’s ability to redirect shots across the court on any given return. He especially suffered from Federer’s backhand, which consistently sailed down the line at critical moments.
After a 2011 season in which he failed to win a major, Federer is setting himself up for a comeback—but first, he faces a semifinal matchup against either longtime rival Rafael Nadal or Tomas Berdych. Of course, with a performance like he gave in the quarterfinals, Federer probably couldn’t even be stopped by Nadal or No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Still, the question looms: how many more majors can Federer win? Is this Australian Open one of the final opportunities for the Swiss to add to his 16 Slam titles?
With the stiff competition he faces from the other men in the top four, it’s highly unlikely that he could return to the three-major years of his prime.
Even so, 2012 just might be the year Federer puts an exclamation point on his legacy. He’s already proved that he can still keep up with some of the best players in tennis, and if he keeps rolling, he’ll win the Aussie Open, regardless of his opponent.
After that, look for him to win Wimbledon for the seventh time. He may never regain his coveted top spot in the rankings, but it’s totally plausible that he can secure the No. 2 spot that he lost in his major draught.
It’s impossible to put a limit on what Federer may accomplish in his last few years in the ATP. He could win one more major, or five more, and all he can do is continue to cement his place in the Hall of Fame and the record book.
Whatever happens, this Australian Open will be the starting point for another flash of greatness from the greatest player of all time. It might be his last hurrah, but Federer isn’t looking to lose.
Just ask Tomic and Del Potro.