At 33 years old, world number two Roger Federer is playing better than most could have expected at this stage of his career. A 17-time Grand Slam winner already, Federer will continue to defy the odds and contend for Majors in 2015.
Fed’s 2014 season showed the ATP’s most accomplished player of all-time still has plenty left in the tank. After a disappointing 2013 outing in which he won only once, at Germany’s Halle Open, Federer rebounded with five singles titles in 2014 and a near-career high $9.34 million in prize money.
Though he fell short of a Grand Slam for the second straight year, Fed’s five ATP wins last season were tied for his second-most in a season since 2008, and his prize money was second only to a 2007 campaign that brought in $10.13 million.
With all that’s going right for the Swiss maestro in his own game, perhaps the struggles of his competition and the ATP’s search for an identity outside of the Big Four will be Federer’s greatest advantages this season.
While 2014 seemed to hint at the end of the Big Four era as we know it, with Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic grabbing two of the season’s four Grand Slams, it failed to produce a consistent challenger. “The Field,” as I’ve referred to players not named Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray, certainly made some waves this past season, but remain an underdog to the Big Four—at least through 2015.
But upcoming players, like Cilic and world number five Kei Nishikori, do deserve respect as potential challengers to the Swiss maestro.
Though Federer owns an all-time 5-1 record against Cilic, he was dominated by the 26-year-old Croatian in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals, losing in straight sets to the eventual tournament champion. A lingering shoulder injury has Cilic on the brink of withdrawing from this month’s Australian Open and reduces his chances of upsetting Federer again—at least early in 2015.
Federer went 2-1 against Nishikori in 2014 and dominated the rising Japanese star in November’s ATP World Tour Finals, 6-3, 6-2. The two have never played in a Grand Slam tournament, but that should change in 2015.
In Grand Slam matches against two of the world’s other hottest players in 2014—Wawrinka and eighth-ranked Milos Raonic—Federer is a perfect 6-0 and boasts a 19-3 overall mark against the two.
Which leaves Federer’s greatest competition this season—the other Three.
Barring an injury, Novak Djokovic will be Federer’s toughest challenger and the biggest hurdle in the Swiss maestro’s way to a 18th Grand Slam title. The world’s current top player, Djokovic outdueled Federer in a hard-fought 2014 Wimbledon final and is the logical favorite to win multiple Grand Slams in 2015. Djokovic, the youngest and arguably the healthiest of the Big Four, is due for another huge season.
The good news for Federer is, unlike with his rivalry against Rafael Nadal, he continues to play well against Djokovic. Though Djoker is 5-2 in the past seven Grand Slam matchups dating back to 2010, Federer has taken the 27-year-old Serb to five sets in three of his five losses. Federer’s two wins, at the French Open in 2011 and Wimbledon in 2012, both came in four sets.
The two are an even 6-6 all-time in Grand Slam events and 1-1 all-time in Major finals (Federer beat Nole in the 2007 U.S. Final). And despite falling short at Wimbledon last season, Federer outlasted Nole in semifinal matches at Dubai, Indian Wells and Shanghai, showing he can still play toe-to-toe with the world’s best.
With the potential to meet in the finals of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Opens as the top two seeds, there’s no reason to think Federer couldn’t take one, if not two major finals from Djokovic this season.
Federer has lost five straight matches to Nadal and nine of the last 11, but his body is holding up much better than the Spaniard’s. At 28, the only thing guaranteed for Nadal this season is the French Open—if he can stay healthy enough to play. Though Nadal shouldn’t have any problems related to a November surgery on his appendix, lingering issues with knee tendonitis and a wrist injury that kept him out of last season’s U.S. Open aren’t far in the rearview mirror.
An injured Nadal is a mountain removed in Federer’s path to Grand Slam finals. Without his greatest historical rival in the later rounds of this year’s Majors, the Swiss maestro will likely meet players like Nishikori, Wawrinka and Raonic—all of whom he’ll have a much easier chance of beating.
Federer’s third-best current rival, Andy Murray, struggled through the first half of 2014, but finished strong with three wins in the final four months of the season. Though Murray was limited by a September 2013 back surgery, the 2013 Wimbledon champ looks fully back to form after nine months of average play.
Like Federer’s rivalry with Djokovic, the Maestro has a winning record against Murray. And unlike his rivalry with Djokovic, Federer has dominated Murray in Grand Slam matchups. With four wins in five matches against the Scot, Federer’s only loss to Murray came in the semifinals of the 2013 Australian Open. Federer responded with a four-set win in the 2014 Australian Open and will likely need to take down Murray again for a shot at the 2015 Australian Open.
Outlook: With the right draw and some luck, Federer has a great shot at competing for the Australian and the U.S. Opens, with a semifinals berth all but assured if he can avoid excessive unforced errors.
His best opportunity will come at Wimbledon, where he has traditionally played his best. A seven-time winner of the tournament, Federer won his last Grand Slam in London in 2012 and holds a career-high 89 percent win rate there. His 131-19 all-time record on grass (87 percent) is also tops among any other surface.
He’s an underrated clay court player, but it won’t matter if Nadal is healthy for the French Open.
Prediction: There’s no reason to think Federer won’t make deep runs at the Australian and U.S. Opens, regardless of the field. With Cilic doubtful to play and Nadal scrambling to get back to form, the Aussie Open looks even more promising for Federer to make a run to the finals.
He’ll also play in the Wimbledon final, which I predict he’ll win in a rematch against Djokovic. After a strong run at the French Open, Federer will lose to Nadal in the semifinals of the French Open.