World No. 3 Roger Federer has once again enjoyed a terrific post-U.S. Open season.
In 2010, he lost the U.S. Open semifinal to Novak Djokovic after being two match points up on Djokovic' serve. The same thing happened a year later at the same tournament against the same opponent, this time on Federer's own serve. Nevertheless, he lost again.
Last year, Federer's great form started even earlier, as he was clearly the best player post-Wimbledon and made it to the Toronto Masters final, where he lost to Andy Murray before beating Mardy Fish at the Cincinnati Masters.
This year, however, he lost early in those tournaments to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych.
Last year, he went to Shanghai after the U.S. Open and took down fifth-ranked Robin Soderling and third-ranked Novak Djokovic before being routed by Andy Murray in the final.
He then went on to win the Stockholm Open, his home tournament in Basel (beating Djokovic in the final), before he was beaten in two out of three tiebreakers by a tremendously well-serving Gael Monfils in the Paris Masters semifinal.
Not a bad surge after a sluggish—by his impeccable standards—slam season.
This year, he went for a long post-U.S. Open break, apart from Davis Cup play, as he had numerous nagging injuries he needed to take care of. Therefore, no Shanghai and no Stockholm results to compare to this year.
Since he has returned, however, Federer has enjoyed a perfect 15-0 record (17-0 if we count the Davis Cup victories before his break), winning Basel, Paris and the World Tour Finals.
They key tournament in both late-season surges was obviously the World Tour Finals.
I would argue that his second half of 2010 was more impressive, leaving more grounds for hope for 2011 than his present surge does for 2012.
Well, it is not Federer's fault that the rest of the Big Four can't take care of their bodies and minds. In Andy Murray's case, he even had to bow out because of an injury. Rafael Nadal was the freshest of the remainder of the Big Four, but even he claimed to have "less passion" for the game this fall.
If we look at the World Tour Finals in particular, last year was simply more impressive and more astonishing.
Last year, he routed Robin Soderling, Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic in straights, playing close to or at his best in all five matches.
He conceded a set to Nadal in the final by virtue of one loose service game, but allowed no doubt about the outcome when he raced to a 6-1 victory in the third.
One could make the argument that that tournament was the most impressive display of tennis in 2010, given the opposition and how easily Federer handled all of the other top players.
Djokovic certainly seemed to think so after his 6-4, 6-1 defeat:
"He's playing maybe the best tennis in 2010. He's really stepping in, hitting the backhand and forehand winners all over the court. Every ball kind of listens to him and comes in, just close to the line.
"He's always on top of you, making pressure, he's very aggressive. That's why he's there."
While this year's victory has set Federer one apart from Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl in terms of most wins at the World Tour Finals, his overall level has simply not been as impressive as in 2010.
Sure, Federer destroying Nadal 6-3, 6-0 and hitting 28 winners to Nadal's four was Federer playing at the very peak of his powers and was a completely flawless display of attacking tennis.
But he played almost as good, if not even as good, in last year's semifinal against Djokovic—where he was playing close to that level for the entire tournament.
Moreover, he hardly looked dominant against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (playing him twice), or Mardy Fish or David Ferrer for that matter. (Although in the latter cases, he simply did what needed to be done and was dominant in that respect.)
Last year, he won the tournament and was almost completely focused in every single game.
And while he did win Paris this year, he blew five match points against Monfils in last year's semi and would have been the overwhelming favorite against Robin Soderling, whom he enjoyed a 14-1 head-to-head against at the time (now 16-1).
In other words, apart from the 6-3, 6-0 whipping of Rafael Nadal, his form at the end of 2010 seemed better than at the end of 2011.
Moreover, while this year's wins have a feel of "last man standing" over them—again, Federer can hardly be blamed for his opponents being "tired" after a month off, but still, the rest of the Big Four did perform better at the end of last year—last year had more of an "everybody is healthy and playing their best and Federer is still winning" feel to it.
We all saw what happened this year with Djokovic and that Federer being the best man in the latter half of 2010 wasn't enough to stop Robo-Novak, except at the French Open.
Next year may prove to be different, or it may not.
If anything, Federer's 2010 surge gave more reasons to be hopeful than his current one.
Nevertheless, his accomplishment should not be diminished as of now. Federer became the oldest winner of the World Tour Finals, the only man to win the tournament six times and he handed the five-years-younger Nadal one of the biggest defeats the Spaniard has ever suffered.
Not too bad for a man who just turned 30 a few months back.
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