The Roger Federer era is not finished. Though the preview hype of the 2013 U.S. Open had all but dismissed the Swiss Maestro as a favored contender, he is still capable of winning his 18th Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows.
Federer has certainly run into his share of problems in 2013, including a back injury at Indian Wells in February that short-circuited his clay-court season.
He could not gain the match play and tennis conditioning he needed to peak at Wimbledon. His second-round loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky in June hastened many to write his career obituary.
Even Federer’s efforts to regain his timing and experiment with a larger racket on summer clay-court venues Hamburg and Gstaad only exacerbated his back injury. His prospects for a winning the U.S. Open seemed dim at best.
But late August has seen Federer roar back with improved health, his trusted old racket and a revival of his beautiful and efficient championship tennis. He’s not showing up to merely give an aging warrior’s heroic efforts. He's bidding to win the title, and he’s growing stronger with each match.
Genius at Work
Federer has long been the king of fast courts. His fluid forehand and quick footwork have been the perfect formula for aggressive tennis. His shot-making creativity is unsurpassed. It’s all the more remarkable he has continued to adapt these talents against a deep, fit ATP field that has turned baseline-bashing into tennis’ version of Roman warfare.
His latest match against Carlos Berlocq illustrated what he must do if he is to raise the championship trophy. Thursday, he controlled the baseline by attacking to the tune of 37 winners in three short sets over his second-round opponent. He finished 27 of those winners by approaching the net 39 times.
Granted, Berlocq is a poor returner, even against Federer’s second serve, but Federer is honing the kind of attack he will need against the other top players. He does not want to grind with energy-depleting rallies, but to call his shots and take away opponents’ resilience.
Federer’s reflexes and tennis intelligence blend with the big-match experience and enough remaining firepower to play throwback Federer tennis. It may not come as easily in his 30s, but he’s showing more consistency in looking more like 2012 Federer again.
When he is serving well, he usually goads his opponents into the kind of replies he can pounce upon with his fabled forehand. It’s then a matter of finishing the point or setting up the put-away a few strokes later.
Dominance breeds fear. Federer is not slipping past his early-round opponents like a washed-out boxer trying to hang on for a split decision. He is playing the kind of knockout tennis that should raise some eyebrows and at least bang home the idea that he is still the great Roger Federer.
Don’t think this would not matter to potential opponents like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Federer can bring out the best in his opponents, but he can strike fear into anyone when he is confident and rolling.
Nobody wants to play him. Deep down, even Nadal fans know that he is always a threat to play another round of legendary tennis. It’s like pitching to mythical baseball veteran Roy Hobbs. One swing and he can wreck any other champion’s dreams of holding the trophy. Furthermore, he has every expectation to regain this title for himself.
No legendary champion can ever be counted out. Even when greatness seems to be on borrowed time, there is always the possibility of flipping over the hourglass.
The Roman Empire fell but centuries later became the foundation for the Renaissance. Renewed glory is the privilege of heroes, even modern tennis superstars.
Pete Sampras had one more U.S. Open title in 2002 as a 17th-seeded player despite struggling through a five-set match in the third round. A champion’s heart thrives on persevering through adversity, not shrinking away.
Federer will not be easily dismissed. He may not lose any of his next five matches. It would be foolish to count him out when a Grand Slam trophy is still under wraps, awaiting its conquering hero.