A year after hitting rock bottom in the worst summer of his career, Roger Federer is the second favourite to win the U.S. Open.
A combination of factors, some of which have nothing to do with him, have made this Federer’s last great chance to win a major.
1. All of his main rivals are slumping. Rafael Nadal’s is out of the tournament with a knee injury. Novak Djokovic has only played four matches (losing two of them) since his win at Wimbledon. Andy Murray hasn’t won a tournament in 2014, and has only made it as far as the semifinals twice.
2. His draw is easy. More accurately, the draw is as easy as Federer could have realistically hoped for. Here’s his hardest possible path to the final, where he’d hypothetically play Djokovic (ATP rank in parenthesis):
- 1st round: Marinko Matosevic (76)
- 2nd round: Albert Ramos-Vinolas (95)
- 3rd round: Ivo Karlovic (30)
- 4th round: Fabio Fognini (17)
- Quarterfinal: Grigor Dimitrov (8)
- Semifinal: David Ferrer (5)
The highest-ranked potential opponent is Ferrer, who Federer has never lost to in 16 career head-to-head matches.
Compare that to the path Djokovic faces (John Isner in the Round of 16, Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, and Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals), and it’s far to say Federer got a bit of good luck in the draw.
3. Federer is on fire right now. History says Federer shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing right now. At age 33, he’s enjoying the type of prolonged final career act that you rarely see in professional tennis. Since 1968, only five players aged 33 or older have won majors.
Federer has reached the finals of both major North American hard court tournaments this summer, winning one title in Cincinnati. He’s 49-9 this year, and has been at his best in majors, reaching the finals of Wimbledon, the semifinals of the Australian Open, and the Round of 16 at the French Open. He went into February ranked 8th in the world. He goes into the U.S. Open ranked 3rd.
You can credit his new, larger racket, or his now-healthy back, or his “rejuvenated spirit.” But the point is Federer has completely erased the stain of 2013 and is playing just as well at 33 as he was at 30.
At some point soon Federer is going to actually start declining. With Nadal set to come back from injury next year, Djokovic and Murray returning to form, and young players like Dimitrov and Milos Raonic scheduled to ascend to the top of the tennis world in the next 24 months, Fed won’t get a better opportunity to win his 18th major than this.
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