Somehow, it seemed so easy for so many people to write off Roger Federer. He was past his 30th birthday, they would point out.
About two years went by without any additions to his Grand Slam trophy case, the thinking went.
First Rafael Nadal, then Novak Djokovic, overtook Federer in the rankings and as the man to beat. Well, look at the guy now.Wimbledon champion, once again, stretching his record total to 17 Grand Slam championships. Ranked No 1, once again. And — heading into Monday’s start of the US Open — the favourite to reach the final, once again.
“I’m out of the business of predicting Federer anymore,” said Andre Agassi, a two-time US Open champion and runner-up to Federer in 2005.
“He’s continually surprised me with his achievements; he no longer surprises me. He has a lot more tennis in him. He looked as comfortable as I’ve ever seen him on the tennis court in England. He maybe needs one or two things to fall for him to knock down a few more (Grand Slam titles) at this stage of his career, but he’s certainly as capable of it as anybody I’ve ever seen.”
Federer’s pursuit of a sixth US Open title, at the age of 31, will certainly be among the main angles to keep track of on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.
Other stories to watch out for are: Djokovic’s bid for a second consecutive championship in New York and fifth major title in two years; Andy Murray’s attempt to follow up his Olympic gold medal with Britain’s first Grand Slam men’s singles title since 1936 and Andy Roddick’s hope for one more deep run in front of the home fans.
Shift to hard courts
A key question is what sort of effect there will be from the short turnaround and shift to hard courts after the grasscourt London Games.
“There’s no doubt about it: This is not an ideal preparation,” said Federer, routed 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 by Murray in the Olympic final on August 5, less than a month after beating him in four sets on the same court in the Wimbledon final.
“It’s not impossible,” Federer added, “but it’s just very hard on the body and mind to travel halfway around the world, go on a different surface. In the past, you would take maybe a few weeks off for a top player, then prepare for three brutal weeks on hard courts, then come over here wanting to fire on all cylinders. This year, it’s different.”
He once won 40 matches in a row at the US Open, a streak that ended with a five-set loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 final. That was followed by semifinal setbacks against Djokovic each of the past two years, including what Federer calls “that brutal match with Novak” — in 2011, when Federer took the first two sets, then held two match points before losing.