Roger Federer is winding the clock back. And the world of tennis is watching in amazement. The last time the great Swiss legend won the Australian Open and the Indian Wells Masters in the same year was over a decade ago. Since then, several column inches have been wasted writing off the Swiss genius, especially through the barren period after his Wimbledon victory in 2012.
At 35, the emperor seems to be striking back with a vengeance. Federer in on a red-hot streak, and has a 13-1 record in 2017 with both the Australian Open and the Indian Wells titles safely tucked away.
Over the past two weeks, Federer has turned in some astounding performances to blitz his way to a 25th Masters Series title and a 90th career trophy. Yet another straight sets victory has meant that Federer has marched to a fifth title in Indian Wells with an air of imperial majesty.
As amazed as we were by his stupendous 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne this year, there was also the sense that the court speed at Melbourne helped Federer bounce back in the final against Rafael Nadal.
But a comprehensive 2 and 3 thumping of Nadal in the round of 16 was a reminder of the fact that Federer rediscovered his groove after a six-month break last year. The court speed in Indian Wells works against the tenets of Federer’s strengths. The tournament’s surface is among the slowest hard court surfaces anywhere in the world.
Federer is leaving both competition and pundits astounded by reproducing some vintage tennis despite his advancing years. On Sunday, he displaced Andre Agassi as the oldest winner of the Masters Series title at the good old age of 35 years, 223 days. Agassi was 34 years and 101 days when he won Cincinnati in 2004.
“I would like to congratulate Roger,” said Stan Wawrinka, the only player to have broken Federer’s serve during this tournament. “I lost a tough one against you, but when you played the final in Australia I was still your biggest fan. Anybody who knows tennis loves to watch you, so it’s always good to see you back at that level, hopefully for many years.”
Federer was in a spot of bother when he was down 0-2 in the second set. But he produced some firebrand winners to work his way back into the set before taming Wawrinka. The aggressive volley winner to end the match was perhaps the best way imaginable for Federer to leave Indian Wells as a deserving victor.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have both pulled out of Miami to nurse injuries. Federer fans are salivating at the prospect of a desert double. The last time Federer sang that tune was back in 2006 when he successfully defended both titles to underline his supremacy in men's tennis.
Interestingly, 2006 was also the last time that Federer won in Miami. A third double in the desert will add to the momentum for Federer as he reclaims lost territory. There is already talk about his clay court schedule and a potential eighth Wimbledon title later this year.
Federer is clearly fueling exuberance among the ranks through his recent run of rampant victories. But it is also largely due to the manner of his victories.
An improbable fight back from 1-3 down in the fifth set of the Australian Open final against Nadal served to arouse his legion of fans from years of disappointment. The dominant display in Indian Wells — including victories over Wawrinka, Jack Sock and Nadal — have left even the staunchest critic massively impressed.
It will serve us well to be cautiously optimistic though. Federer has played well for an extremely long period of time. In recent years though, he has introduced us to shades of his fallibility — inconsistency off the ground, inability to convert break points and close out matches when ahead.
Age has been a factor behind most of those travails. In recent times, Federer has been supreme one moment, before turning unrecognisable the next one. While 2017 seems markedly different with 3000 ranking points already in the bag, he also lost to Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai.
In Dubai, Federer wasted three match points in the second set and squandered a 5-1 lead in the final set tie-break to suffer an inexplicable loss. As smooth as the Swiss can be, the frailties of age do not deal in reputation.
One can only hope that Federer remains supple. The maestro has enchanted us all with his balletic performances on the tennis court for the better part of two decades. One of the most enduring principles of sport is the need to focus on the moment. Federer is obviously doing a great job of keeping his eye on the ball and playing each point as if it was all that mattered. We will do well to enjoy this unexpected harvest without getting too far ahead of ourselves.
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Updated Date: Mar 20, 2017 14:55:39 IST