Roger Federer battled past Australian Open demons with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic now facing huge battle.
It was at the Rod Laver Arena where Roger Federer’s most heartbreaking defeat came. Beaten by a bruising Rafael Nadal, months after having his Wimbledon title wrenched from him in a fascinating showdown on Centre Court, the Swiss succumbed to tears with many seeing it as a passing of the torch.
But nine years on, and Federer 2.0 has reigned supreme. His rivals, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, are toiling with the 36-year-old defying his age and opponents to take the prize. Tennis’ greatest-ever player is showing no signs of slowing up. His rivals, contrastingly, are beginning to creak. Federer is far too graceful to think positively of Nadal’s injury. It’s not in his nature to see it as a coup for him. But, with the French Open coming up in May, the Swiss may see it as a chance to add to his only Roland Garros success. That came in 2009, where he dodged Nadal. In 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 he has fallen to the Spaniard in the final. Should problems keep returning, it may keep him out.
They are four of just 10 final defeats for Federer. His victory Down Under means he has 20 but, had players like Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray, Stan Warwinka and Juan Martin Del Potro not come along, he would have hit 30. The old guard, such as Leyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick, were unable to shoot him down. There is a chance, however, he could yet hit that number. 10 more Slams for a man of his age is a bold prediction but three could come this year. If Nadal misses the French, or is not fully fit, there would be a opening. Djokovic, with his ongoing problems, is not currently well-placed to challenge. Neither are tennis’ next generation, as Chung Hyeon proved in his semi-final loss in Melbourne.
At Wimbledon, Federer will likely add another to his collection. With three possibly in the bag before then, he may end the year on a high at Flushing Meadows. A gruelling season, however, means scooping all four is not to be expected. Nadal, fully fit, is the best in the world. A resurgent Djokovic or Murray would make for a formidable opponent. Time is running out for him to win more but Federer is not expected to walk away anytime soon. Within hours of his Australian Open win, he spoke openly about defending the crown. A year ago, he would have been unable to offer any guarantees. Federer is still fighting, still winning, and his hunger for more success should see him competing until his 40th birthday. Ken Rosewall won the Australian Open at the age of 37 and 63 days old and Federer is likely to surpass that, particularly on current form. It would be wrong to bet against that at this point.
Federer’s place as Tennis titan is assured but what about sport in general? The 36-year-old has the potential to make and break more records and, with each one, more weight will be added to the argument that he is the best in the business. Since the turn of the century, very few have lasted the course of time like him. Federer won his first Slam in 2003. Fifteen years on, he’s still top dog. In football, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have reigned since 2007, where Kaka was the last footballer to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award. In golf, Tiger Woods’ career stalled the moment allegations surrounding his private life surfaced. In Formula One, Michael Schumacher dominated but he was unable to rediscover the magic when he came out of retirement. F1 domination has since changed hands between Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Federer’s temperament works in his favour too. Longevity has been achieved with the 36-year-old patiently adjusting to the demands of the modern game. Long are the days where will throw a racket in frustration. Now, his cool and calm demeanour works in his favour and spells trouble for others up against it.
Federer’s legend continues to live on with the golden oldie leading the tennis charge. Nadal, Djokovic and Murray must rise if the Swiss star’s stranglehold on the sport he loves is to weaken. Australia could be the start of yet another outstanding year.