January 18, 2014
Roger Federer has thrown down the gauntlet to his younger rivals in Melbourne by suggesting that he is in better shape than them – even at the age of 32.
The much-loved Federer cruised through to the last sixteen of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia. Then he seemed to take a mischievous swipe at Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal by insisting: ‘I’m in really good shape, maybe even better than my rivals, because they went off and played exhibitions (in the close season) but I worked really hard for a month.’
Roger admitted that niggling injuries had a significant psychological effect on him through the middle of 2013. ‘It was frustrating and makes you crazy but I haven’t had a setback for five months.’ In that respect, he is ahead of Andy Murray on the comeback trail, because the reigning Wimbledon champion is only just returning from a back operation. Meanwhile Federer talked about his two secret weapons in his bid to defy time: a new racquet and a new coach too – his boyhood hero, Stefan Edberg.
‘My new racquet is giving me easy power on the serve and backhand…I feel the benefit of the power. Stefan Edberg is fun to be around, I enjoy hearing his advice before a match and his opinion after a match. I only saw him play on TV and sometimes I’m not sure if this really happening.’
So now it is left to the rest of us to ask ourselves: ‘Can this really happen for Roger in Australia?’ The cynics among us will probably argue that it is simply not possible at his age, that Federer is deluding himself if he believes he can roll back the years on a hard court and take down the new giants of the sport to add to his seventeen Grand Slam titles.
Last year even Djokovic claimed that Federer had become a little slower than before, in his general movement around the courts.
But Roger doesn’t seem to have a negative thought left in his head any more. He even thinks his wife Mirka’s pregnancy is a telling factor. ‘Last time she was pregnant I won the French and Wimbledon,’ he pointed out optimistically. Federer is certainly in a good place mentally. ‘My confidence before was up and down a little, Wimbledon and the US Open didn’t go too well for me, but it feels different here in Australia,’ he revealed.
Federer fancies his chances. We shall see. It is a fascinating situation and we all welcome Roger’s determination to prove his doubters wrong. What a story it will be if he can take Grand Slam number eighteen after so many observers have written him off. Whether he triumphs or fails, it is refreshing to see a player of Roger’s stature still so hungry for success. He has nothing to prove to anyone. But he wants to prove it anyway…to himself.
The whole world still loves Federer – and we are all praying he has what it takes to make a big impact in Australia.
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