This season goes from strength to strength for Roger
What a year it has been so far for Roger Federer. Rarely if ever do we witness a player come back from such a long layoff to take the tennis world by storm in this manner. Today he became the Indian Wells champion for the 5th time, beating compatriot Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5. His opponent put up a solid fight, perhaps the most arduous of the week for Federer, yet ultimately it was another fairly simple victory.
What makes Roger’s triumph at this particular tournament all the more impressive however is the way in which he charged to the title. His route to victory in Australia was more akin to what one would expect from a player returning from injury. It was far from straight forward. Three epic 5 sets struggles, including one in the final where the Swiss came from a break down in the decider, made for a real nip and tuck, edge of your seat journey. His tennis was superb yes, but you could also see the doubt in his mind. The very understandable hesitations such as: ‘hang on, I haven’t played a competitive match in 7 months – I should not be winning the first grand slam of the year straight away, right?’ Of course, he overcame this doubt. In his two weeks down under Federer was as much battling himself as anyone else, and that is what his tournament so enthralling to watch.
I am confused, is it 2017 or 2007…?
His week here in Indian Wells was enthralling, but for entirely different reasons. His road to victory in the Californian desert was not as it was in Australia. This time it was a procession. An utterly dominant march to final that genuinely had you questioning your calendar, such was its familiarity to the Federer of old. He had all the answers, where his opponents where left dazed and confused. Not a single player was able to take a set off the Swiss. The sole time Roger lost his serve was in the title match, and on that occasion he broke back almost immediately. Federer wound back the clock this week, and had his hordes of fans pinching themselves until the moment he raised the trophy aloft. The 36-year-old serves as an advert for many things; taking some time off and coming back strong being the latest addition to that list.
Yet while his dominance was reminiscent of years gone by, his tennis itself was different. This change was most noticeable in his contest against arch-rival Rafael Nadal. One the few criticisms fans have been able to levy against the Swiss was his reluctance to change his game-plan when facing a player who clearly has had his number over the years. Nadal has always been the largest caveat to the statement: ‘Federer is the greatest of all time’. Prior to this year, the Spaniard held a 23-11 head to head advantage over Roger. Many believed this was in large part due to Federer never being willing to switch the point of attack in his matches against Rafa. He could beat him… he just doesn’t, they would say.
In 2017 that notion has been proven right. At Indian Wells Federer took the game to Nadal. The Swiss played aggressive tennis from the outset, stepping into the court and taking the ball on the rise. A certain Novak Djokovic showed this to be a winning formula against the Spaniard; finally it seems Roger has taken notice. This approach was present in all his other matches as well. Federer is not taking his talent for granted. At 36 he is still willing to learn new things and change his play. And it is working.
The entire complexion of the tennis world has undergone dramatic changes in recent months. This time last year Novak Djokovic appeared unbeatable. Murray stepped up to the plate to disprove that theory as the Serb began to fade, but his dominance was put into question following his poor showing in Australia. Even after Federer won the first grand slam of the year it was still too early to proclaim him as the new head of the currently leaderless pack. This is no longer the case.
Now that the Swiss has won Indian Wells the state of flux may be at an end. Roger is the player with a target on his back, and the player that all others are chasing. This honour comes with implicit disadvantages. In Australia, Federer was burdened with little expectation and could play freely. Now, all eyes are once again on him and the pressure is on. Couple this with his least successful period of the season just around the corner, and some serious challenges lie ahead for the resurgent Roger.
What was your take from the tournament? Let us know your favorite moment in the comments below!