Roger Federer Poised for Run at 2015 French Open Title Despite Lack of Buzz

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistMay 24, 2015

Switzerland's Roger Federer returns in the first round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Colombia's Alejandro Falla at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France, Sunday, May 24, 2015. Federer won in three sets 6-3, 6-3. 6-4. (AP Photo/David Vincent)
David Vincent/Associated Press

Three men have dominated the chatter in the lead-up to Roland Garros: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

It makes sense. Nadal has won this tournament nine out of the last 10 years, Djokovic is the world No. 1 and needs this title to capture a Career Slam and Murray is heading into the French Open undefeated on the surface this season and with two clay-court titles.

However, there's another player who should be considered one of the main contenders for this trophy: Roger Federer, who is lucky enough to be on the opposite side of the draw of all three of the players mentioned above.

Federer's French Open campaign started Sunday with an emphatic 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Colombian lucky loser Alejandro Falla. Despite his confectionery-colored kit, Federer looked as elegant and comfortable as ever out on Philippe Chatrier court.

In case you were wondering, the 33-year-old can still play.

Roland-Garros @rolandgarros

Watch as @rogerfederer finds a reply to #Falla's game in their 1R battle. #RG15 https://t.co/1W7aum7eVo

While it's understandable why Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are getting attention in Paris, it's confusing why Federer isn't. After all, he's the No. 2 seed and a 17-time major champion who has won the tournament once and made it to the final five times.

Plus, while his clay season hasn't been the best of his career, it's been far from a disaster. After losing to an inspired Gael Monfils in the third round of Monte Carlo, Federer won his first clay-court title since 2012 in Istanbul, lost to up-and-coming Aussie star Nick Kyrgios in a third-set tiebreaker in Madrid and made it to the final of the Rome Masters before losing to Djokovic.

It's understood that the conditions in Rome are the most similar to those in Paris, so the 2009 French Open champion has to be feeling confident about his chances this fortnight.

Sweet Roland Garros memories.
Sweet Roland Garros memories.Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

But really, the biggest boost Federer got was the draw. As the second seed, he was guaranteed to be in a different half than Djokovic, but he could have very easily been handed the Serb's fate, slated to face Nadal in the quarters and Murray in the semis. Instead, his slated quarterfinal opponent is his countryman, Stan Wawrinka, and Tomas Berdych is the highest seed he could face in the semifinals.

So instead of 16 Slams standing in the way of his first Roland Garros final since 2011, there is only Wawrinka's one.

As Greg Garber of ESPN wrote, this is a draw that greatly increases Federer's chances of improving his legacy and winning that elusive 18th Slam:

What if getting through Nadal in the quarters and, presumably, Murray in the semifinals takes the spring from Djokovic's step? Remember how depleted Djokovic was in 2013 at Wimbledon, after he beat Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals in five nasty sets? Yes, Murray romped in a four-set final. You have to admit, sir, that it would be a lovely surprise for fans of tennis and would vault Federer into a commanding and potentially uncatchable position with 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

However, the truth is, for Federer to win another Slam, he's going to have to get a few breaks along the way. He's three years removed from his last major title, 2012 Wimbledon, and it's been four years since he's been back to the final of a major that wasn't on grass.

He's older, and although he still has the talent to beat the best of the best, the best-of-five format and two-week timeline of Slams will continue to be a challenge. Surprising results, such as his loss to Andreas Seppi in the third round of the Australian Open earlier this year and his French Open exits the last two years to Ernests Gulbis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, will continue to be a part of his future.

Federer is well aware of this. While the rest of us might be looking at his draw and want to shout about his chances from the rooftops, he is being much more cautious.

Federer's wife and coaches look on during his first-round match.
Federer's wife and coaches look on during his first-round match.David Vincent/Associated Press

"We, the players, are very careful, because there are Tour professionals there that are unbelievable players, and they got forgotten in the process, which I think is a bit of a pity sometimes," he said in a pre-tournament press conference, as reported by ASAP Sports.

He later said, "I have had a good beginning of the season, really. I'm happy with my level of play, and that's where my focus lies, you know."

Federer's focus should lie on his opponent at hand and his own game. That strategy was successful in the first round and will be useful as he navigates a draw that could lead to meetings with both Marcos Baghdatis and Monfils before the quarterfinals begin.

But it's OK for the rest of us to get excited. Federer has proved throughout his career that counting him out is a fool's game, and with major roadblocks removed from his path and the form he showcased in Rome, there's a great chance we could see this legend playing for his second French Open title in two weeks.

He's healthy, and he's confident in his team with Stefan Edberg and Severin Luthi by his side. While grass will always be his forte, he has proved this year alone that he is a serious threat on all surfaces. 

There are a lot of enticing storylines at Roland Garros this year. Although the buzz might be elsewhere right now, whatever you do, don't forget about Federer.