After almost two years, the focus for the 2012 US Open, the last Grand Slam of the year, is on Roger Federer. Since Federer didn’t win any majors after the 2010 Australian Open (before Wimbledon 2012), the big tennis story has been all about Novak Djokovic’s amazing run to the top of the rankings and his rivalry with Rafael Nadal.
But even though Djokovic successfully defended his title at the Australian Open in January this year – in an epic 5-set battle with Nadal – 2012 has not mimicked 2011. Federer began his charge up the rankings late in 2011 after losing to Djokovic in a US Open semi-final. He opened 2012 with wins as well and suddenly, the 30-year-old was in the reckoning once more. Meanwhile Nadal, having been badly bruised by Djokovic through 2011, beat him in Masters series events and at the French Open.
Federer however was still seen as the maybe guy until he won Wimbledon for the seventh time defeating Djokovic in the semis and Andy Murray in the finals. His 17th Grand Slam title gave him an emphatic lead over the field, with Pete Sampras at second place with 14. Djokovic and Murray are 25, a week apart. Federer is now 31. In tennis terms, he’s almost a geriatric. But sadly, it is Nadal who has not played since his dramatic second round exit to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon. His knees – first tendonitis and then Hoffa Syndrome – have forced him to take a break and get treatment.
Meanwhile, Murray, Federer and Juan Martin del Potro won gold, silver and bronze at the London Olympics, Djokovic won in Toronto and Federer in Cincinnati – defeating Djokovic in the final – in the run up to the US Open.
The man who was on the verge of being written off – again – is now No 1 in the ATP rankings, top seed at the US Open and being spoken off as the man to beat. His win-loss record for the year is 56 to 7; Djokovic’s is 54-10. Federer’s current run then underlines his dominance. And, as it happens, he has five US Open titles, del Potro and Djokovic have one each and Murray has a final.
Could get tricky
Evidently Federer has decided to keep life support on hold as he continues to play his elegant but aggressive style of tennis. But that does not mean that Federer will have an easy run to the title. He has a slightly tricky draw with potential threats like Tomas Berdych in his quarter and later Murray looming large. Both are players who have had success against him in the past – and both, notably, at the Olympics.
There’s a potential third round meeting with Mardy Fish, who may want to make use of home-ground advantage. Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are in his half but not in his quarter. But threats in a major tournament are not always about the big names, as Nadal found out at Wimbledon. An unsung player comes along and suddenly finds his rhythm and blasts his way through. Or potential top tenners like Milos Raonic make their breakthrough.
Although men’s tennis is not as volatile as the women’s game and the same four players often make it through to the later stages of tournaments, no one can afford to be sanguine. Which is why the oft-heard cliché of “taking it one match at a time”. For Federer though, he just has to stick to his stylish but strong first-strike tennis and who knows where that will take him? It’s been further than any other man so far.