The question heading into yesterday’s men’s Wimbledon final was not if Roger Federer would win a record-extending nineteenth major title, but in how many sets. And after his unworthy challenger, Marin Cilic, had an emotional breakdown midway through a straight-set beatdown, the answer to that question was resoundingly clear. Federer’s eighth Wimbledon trophy would arrive rather easily, via knockout.
En route to becoming the record-holder for men’s Wimbledon titles, Federer also joined Bjorn Borg as the only men to ever complete the fortnight without losing a set. Borg, however, accomplished that feat in his early twenties…Federer is 35 years-old, the equivalent of a dinosaur on the tennis tour. And he’s less than a month away from turning 36!
No matter. He may be 35, but he’s playing like he’s 25. Ten years ago, Federer was in the midst of a season in which he would claim three of the four Grand Slam’s. A year before that, in 2006, he had arguably the greatest individual season in men’s tennis history, going 92-5 (.948) on the year and winning a staggering twelve tournaments.
Somehow, this 2017 Federer is on a similar track as ‘Peak’ Federer: he’s 33-2 (.939) and he has a chance to end the year with three of the four major’s, too.
With that said, it’s tough to compare ’06-’07 Federer and the ’17 version. The former is surely more agile and explosive, but the latter wiser and arguably more precise. However, when you consider how unlikely Federer’s return to the top of the tennis world has been, his recent success has been more impressive.
Let’s go back four years. Here were some of the headlines from Federer’s “horrific” 2013 campaign, in which he won just one of the seventeen tournaments he entered. The Telegraph: “Time is catching up on the Swiss master craftsman.” The London Evening Standard: “Federer must say farewell to avoid damaging his legend.” Bleacher Report: “Loss [to Djokovic] magnifies Federer’s decline.”
Honestly, these people weren’t necessarily wrong to make these statements at the time. Federer was in massive decline, relative to what he once was. And though he returned to make a few runs to the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals in 2014 and ’15, it appeared as if last year would truly mark the end after a knee injury sidelined him for most of the season.
What a reversal over the span of a year, though. Seven months ago, the talk was about Federer easing his way back into form ahead of his return at the Australian Open. Meanwhile, the other top players, namely Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, seemed to finally have the top of the rankings to themselves.
Now, after arguably the most dominant half-year stretch of his career, the landscape of the tour is more lopsided in favor of Federer (and, to a lesser extent, Rafael Nadal) than ever. Djokovic’s reign has come to a halt. He may need elbow surgery. Murray is in a similar position: he might require surgery, as well. Talented young players like Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem may emerge to replace the likes of Djokovic and Murray, but it’s not a sure bet.
What is a sure bet, though, is that the timeless Federer will seriously contend for the next couple of Grand Slams. And with his form arguably as good as ever, and a couple of his top rivals in decline, Federer will become the first man to win twenty majors, probably as early as the upcoming U.S. Open.
Federer photo courtesy of Clive Brunskill, Getty Images