Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
As we get closer to the start of the 2012 tennis season – only one question needs to be answered. Can Roger Federer win Slam #17 after going winless in 2011?
Those of you that follow my columns know that I’ve said definitely in the past 12 months the answer is a resounding NO.
And after blowing two matches with a 2-sets-to-love lead (one against Tsonga at Wimbledon and the other against Djokovic at the US Open) – something he had never done before in his brilliant career – my previous columns were looking pretty good!
However, after watching the past 3 months – after the demoralizing loss to Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals – and hearing the news that Rafael Nadal will take time off after the Australian Open to mend an injured shoulder – I really believe Federer can win a major in the upcoming season.
At this point it is crystal clear, Federer is no longer an afterthought, and will be a betting favourite to win any of the 4 majors as we look forward to another spectacular season on the Men’s tour.
Federer has always been a punishing closer – in his glory years, if he could see the finish line it usually meant curtains for the opposition. However, this part of his game has suffered. Federer is not invincible with huge leads. If Fed is going to claim one of the slams in 2012 this stat will have to change. Federer must become a better front-runner and keep the nerves and resolve in tact. If anything has let him down in the past 18 months – it’s been his psyche and his lack of confidence on break points and match points.
My lack of confidence in Federer to win a slam in 2011 had more to do with his inability to win back-to-back matches against tennis’ two major giants in the last 12 months – Djokovic and Nadal. I have always thought he could beat either man on any given day – I just felt like he couldn’t beat them both in consecutive days and in consecutive matches. Federer’s game has always been better suited to beat Djokovic – and now with Nadal being injured and not 100 percent I feel like the Swiss Superstar can have a banner year.
The two straight set losses in Abu Dhabi this past weekend should not be an indicator for the upcoming season – it was just an exhibition and nobody really knows for sure how much effort is being put forth. Federer was routed in both matches against Nadal and Djokovic winning a total of 9 games in both contests. For Fed’s sake, let’s hope this is not a barometer of what lies ahead in 2012.
There is no doubt that Federer, the one we saw in the final 3 months of the season, is playing the best tennis of his career. He is a more complete player right now than he was when he was winning all of his major titles. Yes, even in 2006 when he was winning all of those events. Roger Federer at the end of 2011 has more weapons than he did in his so-called hay day. Nadal and Djokovic have forced Federer to elevate his game and for that we have witnessed some incredible tennis over the last 24 months. It’s ironic that Fed is playing so well – even last year he was brilliant at times – and is struggling to hang with the big boys. Things got so bad for Federer last season that he briefly dropped to #4 in the world rankings – many predicted his ranking would just keep tumbling.
The logical conclusion: Federer was done.
He hadn’t won a tournament since January (in Doha) and with Djokovic following Rafael Nadal as a three-time major winner in 2011 — and Andy Murray usurping his No. 3 ATP World Tour ranking — maybe it was time to admit the truth. Federer’s days of winning major championships looked to be over.
But that’s when Federer hit the re-start button. And something seemed to click!
After a five-week sabbatical, Federer returned with a vengeance. He won two Davis Cup matches against Australia, took the title in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland, floored the field in the BNP Paribas Masters event in Paris, and then accelerated through the finish line, winning the Barclays ATP World Tour finals in London.
The month of November delivered three titles and a sterling 17-0 record. Reports of Federer’s professional death were greatly exaggerated.
It was, he declared after winning his record sixth year-end title, the strongest finish of his career.
Brad Gilbert saw it firsthand as an ESPN analyst.
“After that devastating loss at the Open, he had to regroup. One thing I noticed in his impressive run, he had the twinkle back in his eye. Something I hadn’t seen for quite sometime.”
“I think he likes it when people think things have passed him by. I think there’s another chapter left in the novel.”
Federer has 16 Grand Slam singles titles, the all-time record, but 2011 was his first year without a major since 2002.
“Sure, to win Grand Slams would be nice,” Federer said in London. “I’ve missed out on a few occasions last year, and the year before. So I feel like it might be around the corner. Maybe not? The other players obviously have a role to play in this.”
Federer, based on his past two Slams, could have gone quietly against Tsonga in the Barclays final. He actually served for the match in the second set and held a match point before winning 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 to become the oldest year-end titlist.
“When he lost that second set, with a [match point], 99 percent of the guys lose that match in the third,” Gilbert said. “Winning that match shows me something. You’re going to see some more oomph out of Roger in 2012.”
After going 3-9 against top-10 players through the U.S. Open, Federer won all seven of his matches against the top 10 afterward. This kind of domination has been lacking for nearly 2 years.
“I think he’s going to have a big year next year,” Gilbert said. “A Slam? Yeah. I thought he’d have to do something different to win one this year. Change a racket or something drastic. But he just kept doing what he does. I mean, the guy never sweats.”
This year’s WTA produced four different major champions. Gilbert can see it happening on the ATP side for the first time since 2003, when Andre Agassi, Nadal, Federer and Andy Roddick sliced the pie four ways.
Gilbert, who coached Agassi, sees some parallels with Federer.
“Roger can take a lot of stock in what Andre did seven years ago,” Gilbert said. “He was in the finals of the U.S. Open at the age of 35. He won the Aussie Open at the age of 32. I think Roger’s in better physical shape than Andre.
“I can see him playing until he’s 35.”