WASHINGTON, January 14, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
As the 2018 Australian Open – the Happy Slam – begins Monday Down Under in Melbourne, it seems to many that Roger Federer is as good a bet as any to successfully defend his men’s singles title. At age 36, the SuperSwiss (as he’s being dubbed by some tennis writers) is a study in grace under pressure and, it seems, he always possess all the right shots. He’s certainly not afraid to take chances, and gosh, we know he’s still passionate about the sport he’s given so much to and received so many accolades from.
When the healthy, second-seeded Federer walks out on Rod Laver Arena Tuesday night to play his first-round match against 51st-ranked Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia – and this year, especially, being healthy is a great variable to have on one’s side – it will be interesting to see now well the contented father of four (Federer) can maintain his cool under the pressure of the summer Australian heat while playing in this year’s first major.
A year ago, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic came into the AO as the top seeds while current World No. 1 and this year’s top seed Rafael Nadal was the No. 9 seed and Federer was seeded 17th. Nadal and Federer were launching comebacks 12 months ago, and as it happened, they wound up in the Australian final with Federer winning a stirring and grueling five-set gem of a championship match.
Can Anyone Stop Federer?
Now, considering that former No. 1 Murray is out until at least summer, recovering from hip surgery, and Djokovic, with his record-tying six AO titles, returning from a long respite due to an elbow injury and seeded 14th – plus Nadal trying to overcome a rusty knee that’s kept him out of competition since last November – it makes Federer a very good choice to repeat as men’s champion.
Mind you, there will be a lot worthy challengers in the AO field vying for a chance at winning the year’s first Grand Slam. Among them, No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov, No. 4 Alexander Zverev, No. 5 Dominic Thiem, No. 6 Marin Cilic, No. 7 David Goffin and No. 8 Jack Sock are all intriguing choices – and all have the necessary tools to succeed – and we’ll have our eyes fixed on #NextGen ATP stars Denis Shapovalov, Andrey Rublev and Alex De Minaur. Plus, there’s the always charismatic Nick Kyrgios to watch. The 17th-ranked Kyrgios is coming off a recent title win earlier this month in Brisbane. Dimitrov described the enigmatic Aussie this way: “We know how he is. He can switch from playing unbelievably to just missing, you know, the easiest shots and all that.”
Although the five-time AO champion Federer, whom The Guardian of London described Sunday as someone “who could probably save the planet if required,” will be tested in the later rounds, where he could face the likes of Goffin and Djokovic – and it does take a bit of good luck and fortune in stringing together seven consecutive best-of-5 set victories – I’m feeling really good about Federer’s chances at winning his 20th major at the end of the Australian summer fortnight.
Coming Home To Melbourne
During his pre-tournament presser on Sunday, Federer covered a lot of subjects. Among them were being lucky. He said: “I’ve played thousands of matches in my life and I’m sure I’ve gotten lucky throughout my career. But sometimes you have to take a minute and talk to the team about it: like, how we’re going to approach these next three months, next year, next day. Everything needs to be perfectly planned to avoid as many injuries as possible.”
Also, Federer noted how much he enjoys the comfort of Melbourne – creating space for himself and his family – and coming back each year to play the AO.
“I have a big family. I get to see familiar faces again at all these events because I’ve made so many friends over the course of my career. I’m so happy to come back to Melbourne, see all my friends that live here in Melbourne,” he said.
“It’s nice that it’s never actually gone away, the fun aspect of enjoying the travel, coming back to Australia. These are great times in my life and in my career. My wife is incredibly supportive. Is it the best ever? I’m not sure. It’s definitely a lot of fun right now.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) 14. Januar 2018
During his recent Behind the Baseline podcast, Sports Illustrated tennis writer Jon Wertheim sat down with Tennis Channel commentator Mary Carillo and, together, they rhapsodized about Federer.
“To have the pressures and obligations that Federer has and still have thoughts beyond tennis and still be liked … “ said Wertheim. “If you’re following Roger on social media (@rogerfederer on Twitter) and see what he’s doing at age 36, it’s really endearing. It encapsulates what so many like about him. It sends such a great message to the rest of the field that you have to give up a certain sort of central happiness to do this job really well.”
Carillo added that Federer brings so much joy to the sport of tennis. “I don’t know how anyone can walk so lightly and carry so much joy as he does on and off the court. The little things he does right every single day. It’s an instinct, a bone-deep awareness and self-knowledge. It’s so authentic. We’re so lucky to still have him.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.