I learned a long time ago not to doubt Roger Federer.
But when Federer says he can return to the No. 1 ranking on the ATP Tour this season, well, you'll have to forgive me for at least considering it a possibility. And you should too.
From the Associated Press (via FOX Sports):
''Absolutely realistic, if you play great,'' Federer said of returning to No. 1, a spot he last held for 17 weeks until Oct. 29, breaking a record of 286 weeks at the top held by Pete Sampras.
''Time will tell,'' Federer said. ''I know it's possible. I know it's possible to win tournaments. But right now, a big focus is on making sure every tournament I enter that I'm perfectly prepared, like for here, for Australia, for Indian Wells.''
To be fair, it's not such a crazy leap of faith to believe Federer can reclaim the No. 1 ranking. He held it last year after all and won a Grand Slam at Wimbledon. He may not be the dominant player he once was, but this is still one of the four best players in the world.
The man won six singles titles last year. He may be "old" in sports terms at the age of 31, but this is not a man too far past his prime to repeat that performance.
Personally, I tend to believe this will be the year of the Djokovic-Murray rivalry. Djokovic has won five of the past nine Grand Slams, while Murray won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, finally earned a Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open and has now reached the finals of the last three Grand Slams.
Oh, and either Murray or Djokovic has appeared in the finals of the last seven Grand Slams and nine of the last 10.
But there are certain inalienable truths in tennis. One is that a healthy Nadal will likely win the French Open. Another is that Federer is capable of winning every tournament he enters.
Did you know that 2011 is the only year (excluding this year, obviously) that Federer hasn't won a Grand Slam since 2002?
So no, I'm not going to dismiss Federer's claims as batty or out-of-touch or optimistic. The man can still play. He very well may end up as the No. 1 player once more.
When the greatest ever in his sport talks, you listen. I may believe this will be the year of Djokovic and Murray, but I won't be surprised if it ends up being the year of Federer.