Wimbledon 2014 will not be the final time Roger Federer competes at a major venue, but is it the last time he will realistically have a chance to win his 18th Grand Slam title?
Never mind that Federer is nearing his 33rd birthday (August 8) and that he is trying to become the oldest man to win a major title since Andres Gimeno in 1972. What else would he be playing for? The love of the game? The travel and the grind of training?
Maybe, but once a champion, always a believer.
There are champions who understand this. The great Pete Sampras believes Federer will win another Grand Slam title if he plays his best tennis. Sampras told Associated Press (h/t ESPN): “That's why he's playing, I don't think he's playing for anything else but to win some more majors."
Indeed, Federer plays on as the world No. 4. He has trained hard to overcome a disappointing 2013 season, and he has prepared himself for the next few weeks. He has to feel that Wimbledon, right now, is his very best chance to hold up major trophy No. 18.
Federer has aged gracefully, even if his era of dominance has passed. Not long ago, the landscape of challengers included Andy Roddick, Marat Safin and David Nalbandian. Aging veterans like Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas are the last ghosts who roam the sidelines, testaments to when Federer was king.
Now Federer has adapted to challenge a new generation of tennis competitors and a more grueling style of baseline pounding. He plays with added variety, including more slice, and a concerted effort to finish more at net. He does not want to accept anything short of dueling and defeating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
But it’s also been a long time since he captured one of tennis’ Grand Slam titles. Since the 2010 Australian Open, Federer has only won at Wimbledon in 2012. That’s one major title in 17 attempts. It will take his best play, and probably some help along the way, if he is to win No. 18.
Each match will be a golden opportunity. Federer’s not going to go down in the early rounds to the likes of Sergiy Stakhovsky or Jeremy Chardy. He will play as if each match is indeed his very last chance to climb the mountain and raise his banner over the conquered ATP. He will be rested, confident, experienced and ready to focus on each point, ready to pay the price mentally and physically.
He will win or go down swinging.
Sports fans love winners and dominance.
Federer’s followers and tennis fans all over the world would love to see the Swiss Maestro rise again for one more Wimbledon championship. He is a way to open up yesteryear’s photo album and reminisce about the good feeling and joy people had when he won.
The Maestro will always have his devoted supporters, as ardent as ever to hold Swiss placards bearing the “genius” moniker, a Federer trademark through the glory years. He will need the energy they give him, the cheers and the silent urging through adversity and pressure points. Last year, Great Britain got behind Andy Murray, but Federer will be the sentimental favorite. It’s the right of aging superstars.
But does Federer have enough game to win one final Wimbledon title this year? He’s certainly in better shape than he was in his troubled 2013 season, but it’s fair to point out that he is not at the level of his play at 2012 Wimbledon.
Except that he does not necessarily have to be 2012 Federer.
Although this year’s draw will be deep, there are no heavy favorites who are expected to run away with the title. Nadal has struggled on grass since 2012. Murray is still trying to complete a comeback to his best tennis. Juan Martin del Potro is out with injury. Djokovic often battles through setbacks, and he may be the most vulnerable to Federer’s slice attack and forehand winners on speedy grass.
Federer must merely be the better player in each of seven matches. This means consistency with serving and opportunistic finishes. It means playing the right shot more often than not, using his variety, forcing the pace and playing complete matches each time out. He cannot fall to a late string of errors or foul off break-point chances. Each winning match will weave a new story and the means might border more on resilience than beautiful tennis.
All of this will be tough to accomplish, but Federer still has the right to feel the optimism that sports fans feel each time the draw is announced. No. 18 was never going to be easy, and nobody would bet on Federer against the field. But opportunity is ripe, maybe for the last time, and before Federer himself will begin to notice that the wall has been scribbled with handwriting.
Wimbledon is ripe for the taking, but chances are much slimmer at the U.S. and Australian Opens. It's been almost six years since he won the former, and five years next time around in Melbourne. There, Djokovic and Nadal are more formidable and the draws are deeper.
Yes, it has to be Wimbledon this year. It's not Federer's last chance, but it is his very best chance to win No. 18.