Roger Federer has won tournaments on every surface going, and if we could define one as being his domain, it would be grass. Specifically, the grass at Wimbledon. However, the Swiss hasn’t won there since 2009. With the number one spot up-for-grabs and the Olympics around the corner, now would be a good time to find his form here again.
When he falls asleep at night, Roger Federer still holds on to two dreams - to win back his number one ranking and to win another Grand Slam. For the former, he’ll need to overcome both Novak Djokovic and
Rafael Nadal, both of whom are more consistent than the 2012 Federer. Short of an injury crisis which affects both of these young guns, his first dream is unlikely. The latter is almost as great a challenge, yet as long as Wimbledon is on the calendar and is played on grass he’ll have a chance. “He didn’t grow up with this surface, but he has made it his own. It’s his house, he has won six titles there and he wants to beat Sampras’ record”
affirms Henri Leconte, himself no slouch on grass courts.
Except that the Swiss star doesn’t shine as brightly on grass now as it did two or three years ago. Federer usually opens his grass-court season at the Halle tournament in Germany, where he has won five titles but with the last one coming in….2008. Since then he has been a beaten finalist twice – to Leyton Hewitt two years ago and against Tommy Haas ten days ago. Both of these players are older than Federer. At Wimbledon too, his recent tournament history has hardly been better; knocked out by Tomas Berdych in the quarter-final in 2010, he went down at the same stage against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last year having led the Frenchman by two sets to love – the first time this had happened to him. Journalistic laziness could make the parallel with other champions whose decline began once they got the wrong side of 30 and, of course, the young bucks coming through are unforgiving. However, Henri Leconte rejects this idea, “In the last two seasons, Roger Federer has been up against two tennis machines – Nadal in 2010 and Djokovic the following year both were on the verge of holding all four Slams simultaneously
(Nadal having to retire in the last 8 against Djokovic in Australia in 2011, and Djokovic beaten by Rafa at Roland Garros last month, ed.). These two aren’t hitting those heights at the moment and, let’s not forget, Roger is Roger... He’s always capable of something exceptional.”
Federer can ‘come back to life’ at any time
Still, the Swiss has shown enough between last year’s US Open (where he held match point in the semis against the eventual champion, Nolé, ed.) and this year’s clay-court season to suggest that he is still a serious challenger at the big events. Last autumn he added a sixth World Tour Finals trophy to his collection and equalled the record for Masters Series victories (20, held jointly with Nadal, ed.) with his victory at Indian Wells. The possibility of playing seven five-set matches over two weeks doesn’t help his cause at SE19, but he remains the most dangerous of outsiders. “Even if I think he can ‘come back to life’ at any time against any player on grass, I think Roger is a more likely champion at the London Olympics”
opines Henri Leconte “It’s played as a best-of-three-sets, and he already knows the pressure of representing his country, which many of his competitors won’t necessarily have…”
So, victory at Wimbledon without a Wimbledon title. We think the man who has won more Grand Slams than any other would settle for that. The Olympic gold is the only major title (along with the BNP Paribas Davis Cup) missing from his trophy cabinet. To complete the set would cement his legend. Does he need that alone? Not really. His place in history is already assured but what determines that place, as with Rafael Nadal, is his insatiable appetite for victory. To win the Olympics is good, but to win the Olympics AND Wimbledon… That’s better.