When Roger Federer was in his prime, predicting him to make the finals of a Grand Slam event was a safer guess than almost anything in sports.
He was an absolute machine and racked up more major titles (17) than any male player in the history of the sport. While he hasn’t won a Grand Slam since 2012 as age and a number of younger competitors caught up to him, he has tapped into his old form during the 2014 season.
It will be enough to get him back to the championship match at the 2014 U.S. Open.
When projecting Federer’s performance in Flushing Meadows, it is worth starting with his path. More specifically, it needs to be mentioned that Rafael Nadal’s injury absence from the tournament significantly improves Federer’s chances at earning a spot in the finals.
Nadal is 23-10 all time against Federer and has won their past five meetings, nine of the last 11 and the last six head-to-head showdowns in Grand Slams. What’s more, Nadal is the defending champion at the U.S. Open and hasn’t lost to Federer since 2012 at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells.
It’s safe to say that Nadal has been a perpetual thorn in Federer’s side.
The USA Today went as far as to suggest Nadal’s exit makes Federer the favorite:
Nadal’s absence means Federer is the No. 2 seed and won’t have to play Novak Djokovic until a hypothetical matchup in the championship match. While Djokovic doesn’t own the head-to-head dominance over Federer like Nadal does, he has won five of their past seven matchups and 11 of the past 16.
Still, Federer does hold the all-time lead at 18-17.
Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight had an intriguing observation about Federer’s draw after the Nadal injury:
Without Nadal, the Open draw looks very friendly for Federer. He has lost 44 times in Grand Slam tournaments in his career, but just 14 of those losses were to players in the U.S. Open singles draw — and just eight were to players whom he could meet before the final.
There doesn’t appear to be any major roadblocks between Federer and an appearance in the finals, but don’t overlook his actual game right now, either. Federer has plenty of momentum on his side as he arrives in Flushing Meadows.
He has reached the semifinals in 12 of his last 16 events and has won 15 of 23 matches against the top 10 during that span. Federer also made it to the finals in Wimbledon before dropping a five-set thriller to Djokovic and won his sixth title in Cincinnati Sunday at the Western & Southern Open.
Federer has actually reached the finals in four consecutive tournaments and boasts an impressive 9-1 record during the summer hard-court season thus far.
Federer’s resume cannot be overlooked either when discussing his U.S. Open credentials.
Of course, there are the 17 Grand Slam titles, five of which came at the U.S. Open. He made the event his personal playground for years and came away with the championship in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Federer has also played in a record 59 consecutive majors, so nothing should catch him off guard at Flushing Meadows.
He also appears quite confident, via Paul Newman of The Independent: “I know my game is where I want it to be. It’s about just keeping that level up right now.”
Who wins the hypothetical matchup in the finals?
If we are projecting ahead, Federer will use his confidence and momentum to navigate his way through a favorable draw and reach the finals. However, it’s hard to argue with Djokovic’s recent dominance over Federer with 11 wins in 16 tries, and that Wimbledon title should give Djokovic confidence going forward.
Reaching the finals in a fifth straight tournament would slowly start to sap some of Federer’s energy. Djokovic is 27 years old and theoretically fresher than Federer after the latter’s recent streak of championship match appearances.
Just like Wimbledon, the younger and fresher Djokovic will outlast Federer in the finals.
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