Roger Federer looks fresh off the summer of his discontent. Quarter-final losses to Soderling at Roland Garros, who had to beat Roger one of these days, ended Federer’s for the ages string of 23 consecutive major semi-finals, and to Berdych at Wimbledon which cut down his preposterous bid for an 8th straight Wimbledon final, made the great man appear human. Then his semi-final loss to Djokovic at Flushing–the start of a new major semi-final streak we hope–in which Roger blew match points that could have seen him notch a 7th consecutive US Open finals appearance, seemed to take whatever air remained out of Federer’s year.
There Federer was again last weekend, in a semi-final versus Monfils, blowing 5 MP’s at the Paris Indoor, and the casual Roger fan might have uttered such blasphemous words as “same old Roger.” But Roger has played anything but old in the last few months since hiring Paul Annacone, and in fact, has looked like the same Roger who has dominated the landscape so thoroughly since 2003.
Including a few walkovers which we are too lazy to discount, Federer is now 32-4 in his last 36 matches–his first 36 matches with Paul Annacone. Federer lost to Murray in straights in Montreal in the finals, then won Cincinnati, dropping only 1 set, then played flawless tennis at Flushing, winning 15 straight sets prior to his debacle versus Djokovic, and then turned out for Stockholm which he won, dropping no sets, going 5-0 at his home tourny in Basel (dropping 1 set), squeezed in 4 straight set victories in Shanghai before losing the finals to Murray, and then last week, losing to Monfils for the first time in his career.
In Roger’s last 7 events, he has six finals appearances, 3 tournament victories, and has looked “full of energy”, according to us and his ace coach Paul Annacone. Has it been Annacone’s influence that has made the difference? It couldn’t have hurt all that much, but the fact is that Roger is not hurt, as he complained of back and leg injuries that limited him at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Roger has not come charging in as he was expected to do under Annacone’s tutelage but rather, has dominated from the back of the court, with his all time great forehand and with the rhythm back on his serve. In Stockholm, Federer practically ceded the net to German Florian Mayer, content to pass Mayer at will. At the Rogers Cup, in Shanghai, and in Basel, Federer showed he still had what it takes against Djokovic, reclaiming his own Basel crown for the first time since his best ever year of 2006 when Federer went 92-5.
And there was Federer last week, missing a few opportunities against Monfils, content to play out his laissez-faire Masters Series attitude with his eyes on bigger prizes. Federer has come into the Year End Championships in his best shape in 3 years, and displayed his finest form from the word go today, in thumping Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2 in front of Murray’s hometown crowd at the 02 arena in London. Murray, who has famously broken Federer 9 times in their previous 2 matches, was the broken one today. Federer was in on all of Murray’s service games, and held his own serve with relative ease. On Sunday, Federer opened the proceedings with an easy straight set victory over David Ferrer–who unlike Murray, Federer handles in his sleep.
Federer is all but assured a spot in the semi-finals here, a tournament that Federer is most motivated to win. A fifth YEC would put Federer on more hallowed ground. While the YEC is not a major and can not be compared to one, it’s round robin format against the world’s top 8 is certainly as unique an event as there is in the men’s game. world #1 Rafael Nadal has struggled witht the format, losing all 3 matches here last year, and is yet to take home any hardware. In fact, the YEC is where Roger has had Nadal’s number moreso than anywhere else, beating Nadal handily in straight sets in 2006 and 2007, and in 2007, he did so in grand fashion, dispatching Nadal 6-4, 6-1 in 5o minutes. Nadal, after a tough 3 set opener in which he narrowly defeated Andy Roddick, has Novak Djokovic tomorrow, in what should be an interesting tilt. There’s a good chance that both Nadal and Djokovic will play through to the semis on Saturday where the best player in each group will play the 2nd best in the other group. Tomorrow’s winner will likely face Murray or Soderling in a semi, while the loser will likely play Roger on Saturday.
Either way, we expect Roger’s fine form to continue. A win here would tie Federer with Lendl and Sampras as the all time leaders at the YEC, and with the clock ticking on Roger, we have it on good authority that he’d like to tie Pete, and then end next year at number 1–also tying Pete on more hallowed ground–a 6th time ending the calendar year at number one.
What’s that you say? Impossible to wrestle the top spot from Rafa? Perhaps. Especially if Roger doesn’t defend his Australian Open points, which he can only do by winning that tournament again. But with Australia less than 2 months away, we have a feeling that Roger is anxious to get back to a meaningful trophy ceremony at which the other guy will be crying. Roger is looking for that 17th major singles title (and is inspired to become the only man to have 6 Wimbledons, 5 US Opens, and 5 Australian titles), and then, can scoop major points by topping his performances at RG, Wimbledon, and the USO last year. He didn’t even win Estoril or Halle last year, and won nothing between Melbourne and Cincinnati.
Don’t expect that next year, even from a 29 year old Federer.
Go for your shots,