Roger Federer’s remarkable revival could see him end 2017 as World Number One
Roger Federer is a man reborn. The 35-year-old has come back from his lengthy injury lay-off looking like the player of old, dominating men’s tennis in a manner his fans had thought was behind him.
The pepped-up Federer has leapt 15 places in the ATP rankings since the start of the year, with wins at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami Open sending him up to fourth. Yet such is his improvement that Federer could even need just one more Grand Slam title (combined with a moderately successful showing in the World Tour Masters 1000 events) to catch Andy Murray at the top of the rankings by the end of the calendar year and finish 2017 as world number one.
It’s an extraordinary position for Federer to find himself in, and awards him the luxury of sitting out the grinding demands of weekly events on tour – something he says he’s going to take full advantage of during the upcoming clay court season:
" I’m not 24 anymore so things have to change in a big way and I probably won’t play any clay court events except the French (Open). I need a rest, my body needs healing. I need time to prepare. "
“I want to stay healthy because when I’m healthy and feeling good I can produce tennis like this,” Federer continued after his win in Miami. “If I’m not feeling this good there’s no chance I would be in the final competing with Rafa. That’s why this break coming into clay court season and focusing everything on the French, the grass (Wimbledon) and then the hardcourts (U.S. Open) is going to be the key to me.
“Wimbledon has to be the biggest goal... but all of the grass really is important to me because I'll play Stuttgart and Halle there, too. Then of course I am looking very good for the [ATP] Finals, for the year-end championships, where I've been very successful. I like the indoors as well. So for me basically the second half of the season is a big priority now. That's why I'll take a break.”
Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates match point after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Men's Final and day 14 of the Miami Open at Crandon Park Tennis Center on April 2, 2017 in Key Biscayne, FloridaAFP
Roger and Rafa’s legendary rivalry has been rekindled since the start of the year, with the pair producing some spectacular tennis against each other – particularly in the Australian Open. And Sunday’s meeting in Miami was a particularly poignant reunion as it occurred in the same tournament where the pair met for the very first time back in 2004.
Nadal showed his immense promise with a last-32 win on that occasion, but in their 37th meeting it was Federer who emerged with a straight sets win, leaving the Spaniard still searching for his first title in Miami despite reaching five finals. During his on-court interview after the match, a sentimental Federer said:
" This is where it all started for us in 2004. You were a little boy, you grew into a big strong man. We've had some great battles over the years. In 2005 I was very lucky to beat you here in the final, I told you then that you'd one day win this tournament and I still believe you'll win this tournament. You're too good not to."
Nadal, who is up to fifth in the ATP rankings and trails only Federer in the year’s Race to London rankings, seemed positive with his display despite the defeat, pointing to huge improvements from the match in Indian Wells.
“Today was a close match in my opinion,” Rafa admitted. “It was 6-3, 6-4, but I had opportunities to have the break before him on the first set. I don't believe in luck, but I was not very lucky in the first set in a couple of points that I think I played well and I lost in the break points, and that's it. For me it was a much closer match than what the result says, and completely different than last week.
“I am close to what I need to be. I am at a very high level of tennis and I believe I am ready to win titles. I already played three finals this year, losing three times with a player that didn't lose a match. I'm playing enough well to fight for everything I think. I have good hopes that I going to be ready for Monte-Carlo. Always when I am playing that well, on clay always helps a little bit more for me. I need to work hard to be ready for that. If I am ready for that, I think I am very excited about playing back on clay again.”