Roger Federer ‘back at my favourite tournament, ready to enjoy Wimbledon’
Whatever Wimbledon holds for Roger Federer this year, one suspects he will have no regrets
Roger Federer may not be world No1. He may not have won a Major title since picking up his 17th on Wimbledon’s grass in 2012. And he not yet have won a title this year.
Yet the famous Swiss remains not only one of the biggest draws at this year’s Championships but one of the biggest forces in the draw, too. For he loves nowhere better, and has enjoyed no greater success, than at the cathedral of grass-court tennis, the All England Club.
It only takes a scan of the tournament’s preview notes to understand his huge presence here. Winning seven titles from 10 finals is unparalleled, even by fellow Wimbledon seven-timers Pete Sampras and Williams Renshaw. The same is true of his record 15 grass titles: second-in-line Sampras won 10.
Then there are the match-wins on grass. His 147 are 50 percent more than the second active player, Andy Murray. His 79 wins at Wimbledon lead Novak Djokovic’s tally by a similar margin.
And there are other big numbers. He has had more weeks at No1 than anyone else, and a longer streak at No1. He has a record 17 Majors, but also a record 302 match-wins in Majors, and more Wimbledon appearances, 18, than anyone in the draw. He is about to begin his 68th Major—but then he is also approaching his 35th birthday.
And for the first time, this year, the enduring and durable Federer has shown a few signs of wear and tear. Nothing expressed this better than the full-stop that came a day before the French Open draw. His withdrawal halted a 16-year unbroken run—65 appearances—in Majors.
But Paris was just the last in what he himself called, at the Rome Masters, “a brutal last few months.”
He was not wrong. After reaching the final in Brisbane and the semis of the Australian Open, he suffered a knee injury that required his first ever surgery. He had to pull out of scheduled tournaments in Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells. Then having opted into the Miami Masters at the last minute, he was hit by gastric flu: He left Florida without playing a match.
In Monte-Carlo, he finally played for the first time in more than 10 weeks, lost in the quarter-finals, and headed to Madrid—only to be hit by the latest in a career-long history of back problems that persisted through a painful Rome Masters and on to Paris. It was time, then, to draw a line under the clay season and look ahead to grass.
Before all his health problems, Federer had already committed to playing two pre-Wimbledon events, Stuttgart and Halle, but at both he was unquestionably rusty, and lost in the semis against two of the most talented young players on the tour: Wimbledon’s No8 seed Dominic Thiem and first-time Wimbledon seed Sascha Zverev.
Federer has thus arrived at Wimbledon without a title for the first time since 2001. Yet the Swiss is nothing if not pragmatic, nothing if not optimistic. Stuttgart and Halle had, he said, made a big difference, win or lose.
“For me it was to get some confidence and some knowledge of where I was in those seven matches in 10 days in Stuttgart and Halle. I think that was crucial for going into Wimbledon—knowing, OK, I passed that test, the body can take that amount of tennis, four matches back‑to‑back‑to‑back.
“It’s really, really important for your mind to know. Then you also feel you can manage the five‑setters: If you get a day off, it’s not a problem. All of a sudden you’re coming into Wimbledon with more confidence, more understanding where you’re at. Now we’ll see.”
Then with a smile, he added: “Clearly I’m not thinking of the title right away. It’s too far ahead.”
Instead he, along with most other pundits, tipped the top two seeds, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, as “the big favourites. They’ve had such a great last six months, last few years.”
The draw determined that he should fall into Djokovic’s half, so Wimbledon faces a different scenario from the last two years, when the Serb twice denied the Swiss in the title match. Last year alone, though, they played seven finals against one another, with Federer enjoying more success over the world No1 than anybody else. But before this most intense of rivalries could march beyond the Australian Open semis, fate took a hand.
“I was doing so well all of last year. I was great at the Australian Open, felt good throughout. All I had was a little hiccup in Brisbane when I was sick… Then Novak just played this great semi-final. After that, everything changed. The next day, one stupid move, the season’s been completely different than what I expected it to be.”
Before Federer can contemplate locking horns with Djokovic again, he has to reach the second week, and that means cranking up his fitness and playing level against the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils. But if fitness remains a concern—and rumours hummed through social media in the hours before his scheduled press conference—he quashed the suggestion.
“I honestly never thought I was going to miss Wimbledon, especially after surgery. I knew I had so much time to make it here, I knew I was going to be fine.
“Did I worry after pulling out of Paris? A little bit… I think this is a huge boost for me after pulling out of Paris, that I’m back here at my favourite tournament. With all the success I’ve had here, this is the motivation I need right now to get back on the big courts, play good matches, enjoy Wimbledon.
“I love this tournament more than anything. It’s a huge opportunity for me to maybe turn around the season. Who knows? Yeah, then just play some nice tennis: enjoy myself here.”
He has never made a secret of his love for grass-court tennis and for Wimbledon. He loves the history and the tradition, and he plays the kind of tennis that resonates with those brought up on the grass. If anyone should claim a record eighth title here, it seems right that it should be elegant, single-handed Swiss. But it is rare to hear any player express such a preference for one place.
Talking about his troublesome back, he put it thus: “Look, this back has won me 88 titles, so I’m OK with that back. It’s OK if it messes around with me sometimes… That’s why the decision to not play Paris, for instance, was very easy because it was for Wimbledon, it was for the rest of the season, it was for my life, it was for the rest of my career. That’s more important than one or two or three tournaments really.”
Federer may reach another semi showdown with Djokovic, he may reach the final for a third consecutive time, he may even win that record eighth—or he may battle to get through the first week. But whatever Wimbledon holds, one suspects he will have no regrets.