Coming off a dismal performance at Wimbledon—a court that has historically been his best—that saw him fall in the second round to 116-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky, the 17-time champion has now gone a full calendar year since his last Grand Slam Title.
With age continuing to creep up on him, serious questions about how much the 32-year-old Swiss has left in the tank can now be asked. As much as any other sport, men and women do not age well in tennis.
With that being said, to doubt Federer, especially when he still believes in himself, is pure folly.
While the draw for the U.S. Open does not come out until Thursday, the road to the finals can be surmised by looking at how it all played out in Wimbledon earlier this year.
Based on that, should Federer have been the seventh seed, he would have wound up playing Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. While Djokovic has held the edge in their rivalry most recently, Federer still holds the lead in their all-time matchups at 15-13.
Federer, of course, is older now, and Djokovic is currently in the midst of his era of dominance. If there is one thing that their play has shown, however, it is that their matches are defined by long, competitive play.
Even as recently as last year at Wimbledon we saw Federer emerge victorious in a bout with Djokovic, so it is no foregone conclusion that Federer will not be able to knock off the Serbian.
If that was the case, the next foe on the list for Federer would have been Juan Martin del Potro, whom Federer has dominated to the tune of 13 of their 17 matches. While del Potro has won their two most recent encounters, neither were Grand Slam events, where Federer has routinely shined and del Potro has faltered.
Seeing Federer get by del Potro and into the final would have been the safe bet.
In the final, Federer would have met the pride of Britain: Andy Murray. And this is where it gets tougher to call. Murray holds the all-time series lead at 11-9, most recently defeating him at the Australian Open.
With Murray asserting himself recently as a favorite, there is no guarantee that Fed would have been able to get by him. In a series so close, however, few would have chosen Murray as the favorite against a legend like Federer.
Should the road to the final emerge similarly at the U.S. Open, seeing Federer emerge as champion begins to seem plausible.
His play as of late also shows that Federer is by no means done.
In his most recent tournament, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, he lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. But he showed that while he was no longer the single most dominating force in tennis, he could still be dangerous.
In that tournament, Federer and Nadal exchanged fierce blows, with Federer clearly dominating the middle of the match. While Nadal emerged victorious, the level of play we saw from Federer looked to have reverted to form.
In his match against Tommy Haas at the same tournament, there was one key stat that shows why we can’t rule out Federer. In the third set, with his back against the wall, Federer proceeded to convert 92 percent of his first-serve opportunities, via tennis.com.
This is what we have come to expect of Federer: excellence with his back against the wall.
With the U.S. Open slated to kick off Aug. 26, Federer will go into the tournament with the knowledge that he is still capable of keeping up with his much younger peers.
He will also go in looking to rid himself of the bad taste Wimbledon left in his mouth.
The most important thing for Federer, and also for his opponents, is that Federer himself does not believe his career has been written just yet. Federer said, via Sandra Harwitt of ESPN.com:
(My) career is long, over 1,000-some matches. I've doubted myself in the past. I know where I have to go, so at least I know where I am, and I know what I need to work on ... I'm a strong believer that I am on the right path right now, and I just need to make sure that mentally I stay cool about it.
Only time will tell if Federer has enough left to earn one more Major title, but if his match at Wimbledon against Stakhovsky proved anything, it’s that anyone is capable of winning at any given time.
And with Federer clearly not being just anyone, we won’t count him out just yet. He will not be the favorite going into the U.S. Open, but it will also be no big surprise if he emerges victorious.
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