January 20, 2017
It had to be seen to be believed. Even then it was hard to take in. Roger Federer fans and all Wimbledon tennis fans are in dreamland. The great man is back.
No, not the 35-year-old version, though that is undeniably Federer’s biological age. This is the return of the real Federer. The one who took seventeen Grand Slams with consummate ease.
Now, just when we least expected it, we have the chance to see that genius in all its splendour, one last time. Not as a happy reminder of his glorious past, with occasional flickers of the old flame. We’re talking about a roaring fire, burning as brightly as it did in his twenties, still far too hot for Tomas Berdych to handle in Melbourne, that’s for sure.
Almost ridiculously, Roger said he did it all on a diet of ice-cream and chocolate. Come on, wasn’t the performance itself hard enough to fathom, and humiliating enough for the excellent top ten player he brushed aside like a novice? After all, Federer had been out for six months.
You could forgive Roger for enjoying extra helpings of ice-cream, chocolate, or whatever he likes after this sweet, sweet victory. He explained: ‘I like my ice-cream and I like my chocolate, it’s my diet, it’s nothing unusual. I like my treats and I don’t even feel bad about it because I can do it and play tennis at the same time.’
OK, we get it, Roger. You’re superhuman. We kind of suspected as much already. Here was the proof. He did, however, admit: ‘I struggled in the early rounds but this was different, the court played fast, it’s been unbelievable, I did surprise myself.’
If he surprised himself, then Berdych was positively shell-shocked. The poor Czech could barely compete, let alone threaten. The ruthless Swiss was two sets up inside an hour and finished the job in an hour-and-a-half. He hit forty winners and only made 17 unforced errors. He hit hard at the beginning of sets and caught Berdych cold.
With astute tactics came spontaneous magic. The Federer single-handed backhand pinged away perfectly for nine exquisite winners, but those guided missiles seemed no more than the tip of the iceberg, so dominant was that shot. His serve purred reassuringly and fizzed threateningly through the air, aided by masterful disguise and unerring accuracy.
What did it all add up to, apart from the obvious 6-2, 6-4, 6-4? Well, the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen just pulled out one of the best performances of his entire life. He just defied time itself. Sounds impossible, but it happened. Fifteen thousand people courtside saw it for themselves. Millions more worldwide watched on TV.
What does this mean for Wimbledon 2017, potentially? We can all start salivating. This one is going to be very special indeed, especially if Federer can hit these heights again where he feels so at home.
And what might Federer be able to achieve at this much-anticipated Wimbledon? On his favourite grass surface, he could even win the whole thing once more. It’s a mouthwatering prospect and the clamour for seats on the showcourts is likely to rise to a cresecendo sooner rather than later.
Could there be a Murray v Federer final? It’s no longer a fanciful dream. If he maintains his comeback and stays healthy, Roger is capable of such glory once more. You can’t even rule him out of winning the Australian Open this very fortnight, in his first comeback tournament.
Murray, the Brit and world number one, must have been confident of a first Aussie Open triumph after progressing with ease once more, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 against Sam Querrey. After all, with Novak Djokovic out of the picture, who could he truly see standing in his way? Now he knows; and we know the answer too. It could be Roger Federer…in the quarter-final.
Murray will be hoping that someone else does the job for him first, just as they did with Novak. Andy himself doesn’t have a convincing record against Federer at the business end of Grand Slam tournaments. Like Djokovic, the Fed always seems to have the psychological edge against Andy.
But the unpredictable Japanese hero, Kei Nishikori is the next significant obstacle standing in Federer’s way. ‘I guess I’m ready, there’s no turning back now,’ said Roger confidently. ‘I like Kei, he’s a nice kid, I remember him as a seventeen-year-old in Japan, he has maybe the best backhand in the business right now.’
He or Stan Wawrinka did. Until Federer just played. This showdown between Kei and Roger will prove to be a bruising battle, and not just of their backhands. Federer will need to be just as ruthless as he was aginst Berdych if he is to prevent Nishikori from gaining the upper hand.
Apart from those legions of Nishikori fans in Japan and beyond, the world will be cheering on Federer, though. That’s no disrespect to Kei. If Murray were to face Federer at Wimbledon this summer – and who doesn’t hope it will happen – the Brit will enjoy no more than fifty per cent of the crowd’s support at best.
That’s how much we all love Roger Federer. So the tennis world is celebrating the return of the greatest. Playing as well as he has ever done in his long and illustrious career. Perhaps even better. Wimbledon can’t come soon enough. Looking forward to it? We are.
Want dream seats to see Federer and the other greats do battle at Wimbledon 2017? Just click here to book your tickets for the showcourts. It’s easy.