Roger Federer rightly favourite for Wimbledon - he's ready to win record crown
In-depth: Refreshed, renewed, razor-sharp. Is Roger Federer really ready to secure a record eighth Wimbledon - at the age of 35?
This year's Wimbledon brings to an end one of the most unlikely runs in tennis. Incredibly, it has been 26 Grand Slams since the great Roger Federer was last installed as the favourite to win, and yet, at the age of 35, he is now the bookies’ favourite to claim an eighth title at SW19.
The run stretches all the way back to the 2010 US Open. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal have all shared the honours since but now, finally, Federer is back at the top of the game. It is a reflection of the collapse in form suffered by world number one Murray and the ongoing struggles of the man he replaced, Djokovic, but thanks to a superb 2017, Federer is surely favourite on his own merit.
But could he really be crowned king of Wimbledon for the first time since 2012, when many thought he would be safely retired by this time? Is Federer prepared for the added pressure of expectation, when he has operated so well as an underdog this year?
Is one of sport’s great comebacks set for another chapter? Could Federer really pull clear of Pete Sampras with a record eighth title at Wimbledon?
Ominous signs from Halle
Roger Federer from Switzerland poses with his trophy after winning his final match against Alexander Zverev from Germany at the Gerry Weber Open tennis tournament in HalleGetty Images
One of the secrets of Federer’s resurgence this year, consecrated of course in his capture of the Australian Open at the start of 2017 for his 18th Grand Slam title, has been an enhanced aggressively in his game. Federer wants to win points early and is relentless in his attacking.
On Sunday, he won the first seven points of the match, breaking Zverev to love in the opening game, and barely relented after that. Federer was coming to the net to dominate his young opponent – a tactic which has been historically suited to Wimbledon, even if the classical serve-and-volley game is no longer in vogue.
Federer looks sharp, incisive and proactive. He is fulfilling the promise he made last July when announcing he would miss the Olympics and the rest of the season due to a knee injury:
" I am as motivated as ever and plan to put all my energy towards coming back strong, healthy and in shape to play attacking tennis in 2017."
Federer is firmly on the front foot. This latest display in Halle would have sent a message to his rivals for the Wimbledon title.
An amazing 2017
Switzerland's Roger Federer hugs the trophy after winning the Men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis tournament in MelbourneReuters
Halle was already the fourth title of the year for Federer, who also won in Australia and then claimed victories in Indian Wells and Miami. This is a very good omen for the Swiss:
Federer’s only losses have come against Evgeny Donsky in Dubai, a match which saw him lose two tie-breaks, and a shock loss to Tommy Haas in Stuttgart last week. But even this setback was spun as a positive (see below).
Federer has looked a player renewed in 2017. The Australian Open was his first proper competition in six months after his enforced break due to injury following Wimbledon last year, but he has returned if not better than ever, than certainly better than anyone could have expected, Federer included.
After beating Jurgen Melzer in the first round of the Australian Open, Federer said:
" I hope I can stick around a bit. Any match is a good match. Even if I would have lost today it would be a good because I am back on the court."
But he exceeded expectations in Melbourne, and continues to do so.
Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates after winning at HalleGetty Images
Federer took a big gamble in 2017, and as he went crashing out of ATP Stuttgart to world number 302 Haas – the lowest ranked player he had lost to since number 407 Bjoern Phau in 1999 – it seemed it may not have paid off.
Federer chose to sacrifice the clay-court season to spare his ageing limbs the torture of battling on the red stuff, only to inevitably lose to Nadal. That meant he had a full 10 weeks off after winning in Miami, and his return in Stuttgart was a big flashing warning sign that he might be fatally rusty. Even then, though, Federer had the coolest of heads:
" It gives me more time for Halle. As a positive thinker, that’s what I see. I’ve been on grass for over two weeks… It’s good to play a match again. I really feel the body. It feels different right now than it does after practise. It just makes you tired. There are some positives to take away. It will give me good preparation going into Halle and then Wimbledon is soon."
His displays in Halle have proved him correct - now Wimbledon is next.
A favourable draw
As well as showing he is back in business, Federer’s impressive triumph in Halle secured an important spot in the Wimbledon seedings.
His progression earlier in the competition ensured he would be seeded in the top four ahead of Stan Wawrinka, meaning he would avoid a meeting with Murray, Djokovic or Nadal until the semi-finals. Beating Zverev in the final means Federer moves ahead of Nadal into third place in the seedings.
The expert view
Greg Rusedski said on Eurosport's coverage of Queen's on Sunday:
" Roger is the favourite right now [for Wimbledon] having won in Halle and won the Australian Open. Rafa is second favourite if he gets through the first week. Those two are the top two, with Murray probably three or four for the title."
No longer the underdog
This all means that Federer finds himself in a rather unfamiliar position heading into Wimbledon, at least in the twilight of his career. A combination of fitness problems and his advancing years have seen his expectations dip ever so slightly, and in turn the pressure on him has been reduced. Some recent Grand Slam tournaments have seemed almost like a free hit.
But now, for the first time in seven years and 26 Grand Slams, he is officially installed as favourite. It will almost be nostalgic for Federer as he approaches Wimbledon - but not as nostalgic as lifting that famous trophy once again.