It's totally different this time round - Roger Federer (on forecasting the season ahead)
Roger Federer's victories over Khachanov and Sugita may bode well for his season ahead, but the opening shots of most wars are hardly ever defining in any way. The future ahead is both treacherous and uncertain, felt so by the maestro himself. In this article we will make our collective bet on how Federer will fare throughout the season. Although, we have to admit that such prediction is highly impossible (in the words of one of our interns, 'more random than the stock markets'), the headwinds and opportunities that will be discussed in this are certainly there.
(1) Major Competitors Injured
At the very moment of this writing (3 January 2018 05:52 Singapore Time), Roger Federer remains the only one amongst the Big Four not beset by injury. Rafael Nadal, pained by his ailing knees, pulled out of this week's tournament in Brisbane. Novak Djokovic's hopes of a 2018 comeback remain elusive, as his elbow remains problematic, forcing him to withdraw from Doha. Although in action right now in Abu Dhabi, Andy Murray's hip remains not healed to a healthy degree. Federer has seized on such moments before (if our opinion is correct) - we believe that had Nadal not skip the 2009 Wimbledon championships as a result of injury, Federer would not have won it.
(1) Potential Breakout Year for Young Gun(s)
By young guns, we refer almost exclusively to a pair of them - Zverev and Kyrgios. The young guns are a numerous batch - you have Coric, Raonic, Theim and Tiafoe to name just a few. However, concerning the ability of Federer to carry on his 2017 performance into the new season, only two of them actually matter. Zverev and Kyrgios have made huge huge (we cannot emphasize this enough) leaps in performance, but more importantly quality. Zverev's rise from the ATP ranking of 83 at the start of 2016 to 4 at the start of 2018 is a spectacular testament to such. He has secured two ATP Masters titles in 2017, beating Djokovic and Federer in each of them. Were Zverev to sustain such speed of improvement throughout 2018, he would no doubt reach his first grand slam final and probably even secure it, probably with Federer on the other side of the court! The same could be said for Kyrgios, not in terms of achievements unlocked but in how rapidly his standard has evolved. His emotionally-induced inconsistency aside, Kyrgios has proven himself capable of taking on the Big Four, beating Djokovic in Indian Wells and taking Roger Federer to a three-set Miami thriller. (Both in 2017.)
(2) The Issue of Age
Although this may seem like the issue (or potential issue) that is furthest from Federer's concern, we (our Rovo team is majority Federer-supporting) and he cannot escape the fact that he is turning 37 this year, and age (no matter how hard and well one fights against it) wears and tears (both the body and more relevantly for Federer, the spirit). From the moment of his victory at the 2017 Australian Open, there were indeed subtle hints that Federer might be looking at a retirement much earlier than expected.
I hope to see you next year... If not, this was a wonderful run.- Roger Federer
The above quote came in the wake of his 2017 Australian Open victory. Although he did confirm his coming back in 2018, it was in our minds no doubt a sign of aged-related wear.
If I had to play on the outside courts or stadiums that were not full at all, I think the passion would go away a bit even though I love tennis and what I do.- Roger Federer
We might appear to be grabbing at straws right here, but we certainly think that a younger Federer would not have made that above remark.
(3) The Resurgence of Del Potro
Now, we have a huge elephant in the room - Del Potro. Del Potro has been a traditional threat to Federer. He has upsets over Federer in some of the most important matches - the 2017 US Open quarterfinal and the 2009 US Open final - and brought Federer to a five-setter in others - the 2012 Rolland Garros quarterfinal and the 2009 Rolland Garros semi-final. His semi-final run at the US Open 2017 and strong performances in the Shanghai, Paris and Basel ATP Masters Tournament, which lunged him to the highest ATP ranking since 2013, may just be a sign of a greater power to come in 2018.
3 headwinds and 1 opportunity. The numbers are stacked against Federer, but analyses such as this are a tricky thing, so we will not stick too closely to our predictions.
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