The quarter-finals in Melbourne have already completed. Djokovic-Nishikori, Federer-Berdych, Monfils-Raonic and Ferrer-Murray. The comments and opinions, in overwhelming majority, almost give these matches by mere formalities. Everyone seems taken for granted the final victory of Novak Djokovic and seems reckless to disagree with this point of view, given the game and the results of the Serbian in recent months.
However, I want to dwell today on the possibilities of Roger Federer. Can the Swiss win his eighteenth Slam? Does he have possibilities in a five sets match against the undisputed number one in the world? Honestly, I do think Yes… and not a few.
The key for Federer is in his performance with the serve. One need only look at the statistics. The Swiss, from 68% of total points serve won is nearly invincible. With that percentage or better he has won, in the last 2 years, 118 games and he lost only 4, Milos Raonic (Paris 14), Nick Kyrgios (Madrid 15, on clay), Albert Ramos-Vinolas (Shanghai 15) and John Isner (Paris 15). An impressive 96,72% effectiveness. Federer Advanced Stats
Even against Djokovic – always from 2014 – he has a 4-0 in favour when he gets that percentage; two victories in 2014 (Dubai and Monte Carlo) and another two in 2015 (Cincinnati and the ATP finals, in the round robin). Federer Advanced Stats (II)
In fact, the number one in the world has never been able to beat Federer if Roger wins at least that 68% of his points at service. 15-0 leads the Swiss when he dominated with his serve. I don’t know if Federer knows this fact, we will have to assume that he does; otherwise, someone should tell him urgently: Roger, if you dominate your serve games you will win for sure. Federer Advanced Stats (III)
Of course, one might wonder how often gets Federer these percentages. Many times. To be exact, in the 73% of matches, we continue speaking from 2014, he reaches or exceeds that mark. In fact, his average is 71% of points won when he serves. Only in his last game before Goffin, he scored a 78% (52 of 67) that left stiff to the Belgian. Federer does not have to do anything exceptional – for him, of course – about the game he is able to performance normally.
Really, and according to the statistics, which are cool but not lie, Federer lost only when he played insecure with his service. And that happens to him, bad days apart, when anxiety takes over him, mainly in the finals and matches before his main rivals, Nole and Rafa. We have a recent example at the Brisbane tournament. The performance of the Swiss in the early rounds was superlative: 75% before Kamke, 77% to Dimitrov and 90% (!!!) before Thiem. But in the final before Raonic, nerves appear, anxiety to win and his game becomes erratic; as a result his percentage collapses to a 64% and he is beaten.
And it is not that Raonic, although he has started the season at an impressive level, he becomes a retriever as Ferrer. For Federer, there is an additional difficulty, in addition to the rival that he has opposite. The major events, as we mentioned earlier, pressed him, gripping his game.
There are other examples of this phenomenon: Brisbane 2014 before Hewitt, 60%; Monte Carlo 2014 with Wawrinka, 64%; Canada 2014 against Tsonga, 63%. Finals all of them in which Federer reached by exhibiting a great game. Is it because his rivals then? Let’s see: Before Hewitt he has a balance, since 2007, 7-2 in favour. Two defeats, right in the two finals that they played, the aforementioned in Brisbane and Halle 2010. Against Wawrinka he has a clear 18-3. Three defeats, one at Roland Garros last year and another one in the only final they have played, Monte Carlo 2014. Tsonga has beaten him once more (11-5), but also his last two defeats were in important commitments: RG 2013 and the mentioned final in Toronto two years ago. It seems to be very clear.
Not to mention many matches against Djokovic where Federer has come playing much better and he has clearly blocked when the Serbian was in front. There is no more to remind the big differences between the game of Federer at the semi-final of the past Wimbledon, against Murray, and two days later which he showed in the final with Djokovic. Or the final at US Open, where he dominated in many phases of the match to systematically weaken in the “big points”. We can even remember the 2010 and 2011 US Open semis, when the Swiss couldn’t materialize several match points that he has.
From my point of view, if Federer plays to his level, he can win anyone, including Djokovic, Nadal, and the self-same sursum corda, if he plays tennis, which I ignore. The question would be how to defeat him, given the level he exhibits. The problem of Federer is not age, nor the physical, even long matches, although certainly are factors that play against him. His weakness is that, being as good or better player than any other, as competitor is not among the best and, of course, far away from Nole or the best Rafa.
And it is a shame, because at this point the Swiss could have on his record book maybe 20 GS and be recognized universally as the best player in history. But he found hard to accept and understand why Nadal beat him and that conditioned him. Accustomed as he was to raze incontestably, he neglected training his mentality and character, as well as the tactical aspects of the game. Simply he did not need it. He was long time without coach, convinced that his talent was more than enough. And that has taken him toll when playing against Nadal, Djokovic and Murray they demanded him to grit his teeth, stay calm and hold on the court, even following an effective scheme, rather than think on his feet like so many times he did in the past.
In recent years he has understood that he could not do everything by his own. To compete with his tough opponents he needed help and, in that sense, the work of Edberg has been noted, giving him a pattern adapted to his characteristics and needs. But so many years of neglect of the factors mentioned have left him that small gap, which manifests itself in the difficulty to control the anxiety at certain times.
At this Australian Open the Federer game has become sublime again. If he is able to keep it and maintain the control of his emotions he is a clear contender for the title. I think that favours him that the possible showdown with Djokovic is in the semi-finals, to not add the pressure of the final with the derivative of playing with the Serbian. Before, both must to solve their commitments in quarters, which are not easy at all. If finally they both manage to overcome their respective obstacles, we will attend to the 45th edition of this exciting classic which mean the possibility for Federer to access to another final and try to break this “17” which remains immovable on his record book since 2012. The magical “18”, so close and so far, is waiting.
Gabriel Garcia / www.thetennisbase.com