Why Roger Federer Should Be the Favorite at Wimbledon 2015

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJune 28, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28:  Roger Federer of Switzerland during a pratice session prior to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon on June 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Forget about Roger Federer’s past 17 majors. There’s no time like the present as the Swiss champion comes in as one of the favorites to win Wimbledon 2015. Indeed, there is a lot to like about Federer’s chances of being the favorite against a host of younger, seasoned veterans and future champions from Generation Next.

Picking Federer to win his 18th major is a completely different proposition than it was during his heyday. It’s a different ATP tour, brawnier, deeper and with more players who can be spoilers, something inconceivable for anyone else at SW19 a decade ago.

This is also a different Federer. He’s no longer throwing forehand lightning bolts from the baseline as if he were Zeus. His energy and youth has settled more gingerly into shadow ball—a blend of power, changes of pace and creative pressure. We are seeing the apotheosis of Federer’s creative attacking designs under coaches Stefan Edberg and Severin Luthi.

In a Wimbledon bracket that lacks a truly dominant pick, Federer has more to his fast, grass arsenal than any other player in the world. He is a solid choice to anoint as the favorite.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28:  Roger Federer of Switzerland with coach Stefan Edberg during a pratice session prior to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon on June 28, 2015 in London, England.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images


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King of Fast Courts

Federer has defeated Novak Djokovic four times since overcoming back ailments and a subpar 2013. Twice he has defeated the Serbian on his way for titles on the fast surface at Dubai. He has also cleaned up titles at Cincinnati, Shanghai, Brisbane and two consecutive years at Halle. He narrowly dropped Wimbledon 2014 to Djokovic after a dogged effort from both players.

Federer is playing better in 2015. Peter Bodo of ESPN opined that Federer may be even better in 2015 than he was in 2012 when he won Wimbledon at the ripe age of 30. Bodo added that Federer “is the only player who can still torment Djokovic.” (Sidenote: Bodo may have forgotten about Federer’s fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka who has cost Djokovic a major or two.)

Federer is rested and ready after his eighth title at grass-court Halle, stating in ESPN: “Winning Halle has given me the extra confidence I guess it's going to take me to win this title here.” He elaborated with the big picture, explaining in the Guardian:  

It’s probably been the best preparation I’ve ever had for Wimbledon, because we have a week more on the grass…It’s changed everything. The body might feel it after Wimbledon, but the good thing is you can heal problems you might have carried over from the French rather than taking them right away on to the grass.


On His Racket

The No. 2-seeded Federer has a few challenges in his draw, but really not until a potential quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych.

Berdych’s commendable success against Federer in the past (Federer leads head-to-head 14-6) has seen him lose all three times to Federer since Edberg came aboard. Berdych has the advantage of some bigger power on the baseline, but Federer’s advantages, are, well, everything else.

Federer’s abilities to mix up his serve, volley, cut off Berdych’s rhythm and make him play defensive tennis have made the Czech look slow, even in the crushing loss he took on the slower surface at Indian Wells.

Federer could get Andy Murray in the semifinals, but Murray’s variety is still a shadow of Federer’s versatility, highlighted by Federer’s better offensive attack. He’s bruised Murray in all three meetings in the last two-and-a-half years, and although Murray now looks more like the Murray of 2013, Federer is usually a step ahead in forcing the pace and pressure in big matches. He’s not going to let Murray turn this into a baseline duel, but rather will force Murray into quick points and situations Murray is not used to winning. This is grass, which is good for Murray but better for Federer.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Success for Federer is contingent upon his variety pack. He will mix up his wonderful pace by moving his rivals sideways, into the net and off the court. He can still hold his own on the baseline, but he can also take this out of the equation against opponents who are only bound to toe that region.

Federer can still flick his one-handed backhand because it will stay low where he likes it, where his reflexes and muscle memory can deliver a running “thwack” that was absent from those rubber-bouncing topspin dervishes from clay-court deviants. Federer’s backhand on grass is good and overlooked when many tennis observers get caught up in thinking about Nadal’s inflictions on it.

What if Federer gets Nadal in the semifinals? It seems unlikely given Nadal’s decline the past year, but if it happens, we will feature a separate breakdown following more evidence that the Spaniard is back. For now, we can only be more confident that Federer is better positioned to win this major.

Federer may or may not get Djokovic, who could have his hands full with dangerous titans such as Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka. Those are players who would not be able to trouble Federer until a possible final. And if Federer is in the final, all of England will be sentimentally backing the Swiss Maestro, giving him the kind of World Cup support that could energize him and isolate his opponent.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08:  Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates after winning his Gentlemen's Singles final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croque
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images


Always a Champion

It’s been three years since Federer won Wimbledon, but he’s continued to put in the extra work to overcome injuries, adjust to a bigger racket and patiently await his opportunity to strike while Djokovic and others have had their turns to win majors.

All the while, Federer has retained his tone of optimism and looked forward to compete, despite some tough finals losses in big tournaments. (Since 2013, Federer has lost six of eight times in Masters 1000 finals and both of his ATP year-end chances at London.) An observer could either say it’s a pattern or that Federer is due. Either way, he is playing at a level above most of those other matches, but the point is, he always competes, win or lose.

When Federer plays, there’s always a sense that he can perform his magic, especially when the stage is Wimbledon. He maintains a tough service game, and his defensive footwork is still cat-quick. Anybody trying to finish off Federer knows the Swiss Maestro can turn things around when things go awry. He has that extra gear to rebound and elevate his game.

There are no guarantees for Wimbledon 2015, and plenty of good arguments can be made for more than a few stars in the top 10. Perhaps nobody is going to bet on Federer against the field, and maybe he stands about a 33 to 40 percent chance of winning the championship.

Still, I’ll take Federer and those odds over any other single player in the upcoming fortnight. He has all of the qualities necessary to win major No. 18, and he needs only to execute and hope that a little fortune, energy and hot plays come at the right times.