Monday, 19 March 2012

The Fed Express is set for its final journey

Roger Federer doesn't settle for second best. The Swiss will no doubt be delighted to have equalled Rafael Nadal's record of 19 ATP Masters 1000 titles after beating John Isner in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, but his ultimate ambition is to add to his haul of 16 Grand Slam titles. Has the great man got it in him?

With three ATP titles to his name already in 2012 (Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells), the 30-year-old appears to be in great shape to claim his first slam since the 2010 Australian Open. Having only won once at Roland Garros - in 2009 after the king-of-clay Nadal had suffered a shock elimination at the hands of Robin Soderling in the fourth round - Federer will have one eye on Wimbledon and the US Open where he has been crowned champion on six and five occasions respectively.
Roger Federer is desperate to rekindle his former Grand Slam glory

Despite departing SW19 in the quarter-finals and Flushing Meadows in the semi-finals in 2010 and 2011, he will be determined to rediscover his magic this time round.

Standing in his way are the top two ranked players in the world, Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and potentially world number four Andy Murray who is still vying for his first Grand Slam title.

Encouragingly for Federer, Nadal has failed to secure a title so far this season and even though Djokovic powered to the Australian Open in January, semi-final defeats against Murray in Dubai and Isner in Indian Wells have somewhat dented the air of invincibility he possessed throughout 2011. Murray's early exit from Indian Wells may detract from his promising early season form but there are still major question marks surrounding his mental capabilities in the latter stages of Grand Slams.

Evidently, there are strong reasons to believe that Federer could re-establish himself at the very top of the game, however, history suggests that age is more than just a number in tennis. Since the beginning of 1990, only five of the 89 Grand Slam tournaments have been won by players over the age of 30 (Andres Gomez 1990 French Open (aged 30), Petr Korda 1998 Australian Open (aged 30), Andre Agassi 2001 and 2003 Australian Open (aged 30 and 32) and Pete Sampras 2002 US Open (aged 31)).

The world number three can take comfort from the exploits of fellow legends Agassi and Sampras in the twilight of their careers, but such has been the development of the game over the past decade, it's difficult to see many names being added to that list in the future.

Nowadays, there is so much more emphasis on moving around the court at speed and producing a large variety of shots whereas in the past a combination of shot power and a quality service game could be enough to fire a player to stardom. The game has moved on massively to the benefit of young talent coming through the ranks which is something Federer has to deal with.

If he was competing in any other era many would argue that he could defy the dreaded age barrier and sustain his huge level of success. It just so happens that he is competing in an era which is recognised as being 'the closest to perfection the sport has ever seen' by Sporting Intelliegence

Whether this will prove the stumbling block in his quest for another Grand Slam title remains to be seen but whatever happens between now and the end of his career, it will take a very special player to better his record total.

And you certainly wouldn't bet against him making it that little bit more difficult to do so.  

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